UMass to bring more students back; 19 new deaths in state

BOSTON (AP) — The University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to bring more students back to campus for the spring semester in conjunction with a more robust coronavirus testing program, school officials said Friday.

First-year and transfer students will be given the option to live on campus, as will students who depend on the university for housing and dining, including international students, those taking mandatory in-person courses, and varsity athletes, the state's flagship university said in a statement.

They represent about 60% of the typical on-campus population, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in the statement.

Students who don't want to live on campus will be able to continue with remote learning, he said.

Among other measures meant to control the spread of the virus, the school will introduce twice-weekly asymptomatic virus testing in the spring.

UMass has conducted more than 100,000 tests since August for a positivity rate of 0.15%, schools officials said. Just one on-campus resident has tested positive this fall.

The university has about 22,000 undergraduates and on-campus capacity for about 13,000. There are only about 1,100 students who need essential in-person classes living on campus this fall.

“While I am pleased that a larger percentage of our students will be afforded the opportunity to return to campus and take part in the immersive residential experience, my heart goes out to students to whom we are not able to extend this invitation,” Subbaswamy said. “Put simply, given the nature of the pandemic, the campus cannot operate at full capacity and adequately provide the virus testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and quarantine and isolation measures necessary while the pandemic continues.”

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS.

Massachusetts on Friday reported 19 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths and nearly 970 newly confirmed cases, pushing the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to nearly 9,610 and its confirmed caseload to nearly 144,900.

Adding in presumed deaths, the state’s total COVID-19-related death toll now stands at 9,830.

The seven-day weighted average of positive tests stood at 1.4% — up from 0.8% a month ago. The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were more than 570 people reported hospitalized Friday because of COVID-19, and more than 125 in intensive care units — double the number in intensive care units two months ago.

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities rose to 6,323.

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SKATING RINKS CLOSED

Massachusetts has ordered the shutdown of every indoor ice skating facility in the state for two weeks in response to several COVID-19 clusters linked to ice hockey games and practices.

The order takes effect Friday and lasts until Nov. 7, the state Department of Public Health announced Thursday.

There have been at least 30 clusters of COVID-19 associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 cities and towns in the state, the department said.

Each includes two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, for a total of 108 confirmed cases.

“This pause will allow for the development of stronger COVID-19 protocols to further protect players, families, coaches, arena staff and other participants, as well as communities surrounding hockey rinks," the agency said in a statement."

College and professional programs are exempt from the order.

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NURSING HOME OUTBREAK

Five residents of a Chelmsford nursing home have died and more have been infected in a COVID-19 outbreak, according to state health data.

Data from the state weekly public health report show five residents have died and more than 30 residents and staff have been infected at Sunny Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the Boston Herald reported.

Many residents have moved past their 14-day isolation period and are “on the road to recovery,” administrator Jeff Schwartz posted online.

A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said the state has been monitoring the outbreak and deployed a rapid response team to the center earlier this month.

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BOSTON UNIVERSITY SUSPENSIONS

Boston University has suspended 12 students for the remainder of the fall semester for violating the school's rules on gatherings by attending off-campus parties at which mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols were ignored.

Five other students were placed on deferred suspension for the rest of the academic year, the school said on its website.

The suspended students will not receive a tuition refund, the school said.