COVID-19 Update(s): What we know right now

More information to come in the coming weeks

Sunday, April 5, 2020: Number of COVID-19 cases in Mass. continues to escalate and UMass employee tests positive for the virus. 

The latest Mass.gov report reveals there are now 12,500 cases in Massachusetts. There were 15 new deaths, which brings the total to 231.

In an email to the UMass community on Sunday, Jeff Hescock, the executive director of emergency management, and George Corey, M.D., the executive director of university health services, revealed that one UMass employee has tested positive for COVID-19. According to the email, the employee, who works for dining services in Blue Wall Café, was last on campus Thursday, April 2. As a result, “The Blue Wall has been closed until further notice. The university will perform enhanced cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting of the facility,” wrote Hescock and Corey.

Although “There are currently no additional confirmed cases on campus as a result of this exposure,” Hescock and Corey urged the community to continue following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and to contact the COVID-19 HR Response Team at 413-687-2283 or [email protected]. if they have any concerns about potential exposure.

Saturday, April 4, 2020: COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Mass.

According to Mass.gov, the number of confirmed cases is at 11,736, with 1,334 new cases confirmed in Saturday’s report. There were 24 new deaths, with the majority of victims being in their 80s and 90s. The most impacted age groups are 50-59, 30-39, and 40-49, respectively. Additionally, Middlesex and Suffolk are the counties with the highest number of cases.

Friday, April 3, 2020: UMass engineers and nurses design face shields to combat the shortage of PPE equipment in Health Care, Gov. Charlie Baker announces contact tracing tool initiative as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to escalate.

According to Friday’s report from Mass.gov, 1436 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed since Thursday’s report, to total 10402 cases. With 38 new deaths reported, the death count in Mass. has risen to 192.

On Friday afternoon, UMass announced their design for face shield masks to combat the shortage of PPE equipment within the Health Care field. In the video describing the face shields, Frank Sup, an associate professor of Industrial and Mechanical Engineering, who is one of the engineers that helped to design the product explains how it attaches at the forehead and is meant to be used in conjunction with an N95 mask, but to replace goggles. Furthermore, the face shield can be produced by paper packaging company materials, making it low in cost and easier to mass-produce. Professor Sup elaborates that the university “expects to have 80,000 face shields produced by the middle of April when the virus is expected to peak.”

Friday Gov. Charlie Baker, announced the contact tracing tool initiative to deploy nearly 1000 individuals to trace confirmed COVID-19 cases. It is the first of its kind in the nation. According to the announcement, “The initiative will focus on tracing the contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, and supporting individuals in quarantine, and builds on the efforts already underway from the Command Center to leverage public health college students to augment the contact tracing being done by local boards of health.”

Thursday, April 2, 2020: Over 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 emerge in Mass. as the death toll rises and the Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs shares a video with students encouraging them to connect with loved ones via telecommunication.

Thursday’s report from Mass.gov, shows a 1228 case increase from Friday, bringing the total number of cases in Mass. to 8966. Additionally, there were 32 new deaths; the total number of individuals that have passed away as a result of COVID-19 is 154.

Thursday afternoon, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs & Campus Life Brandi Hephner LaBanc sent an email with a video to students. In the video, she encourages students to reach out to each other, along with reconnecting with loved ones during this period of uncertainty. And how “social distancing does not mean remaining socially isolated.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020: Numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mass. continues to climb exponentially, as Gov. Charlie Baker announces new medical center openings and UMass formulates two Emergency Response funds for students.

In Mass.gov’s coronavirus report from Wednesday noted 1118 new cases, in addition to 33 new deaths. Out of the 33 reported deaths, the majority of whom were over the age of 70, one individual in their 30s with pre-existing conditions also passed away.

During Gov. Charlie Baker’s third press release this week, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. He confirmed that the national guard has tested all residents and is currently testing the staff of Holyoke Soldiers Home, using their recently formed mobile testing unit, which Gov Baker expects will be utilized to test nursing homes across the state. Attorney Mark Perlstein will also be investigating the deaths at Holyoke Soldiers Home. Massachusetts is opening a new Field Medical Center in the Worcester DCU Convention with 250 beds. To aid this effort, UMass Medical School graduated its third-year medical students yesterday, who will be working at the DCU Center. This will be one of three field hospitals, the second one will be at Boston’s BCEC and the search for the third is still underway. 

According to Wednesday’s UMass update has recently formed two separate Emergency Response funds: one for students impacted financially by Coronavirus, to apply students are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students Office, and another for members of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. On-campus, all building entrances will be locked starting April 6th, but faculty and staff will still have the same levels of access using their UCard. Students staying on campus will be able to continue accessing their dorms, the dining halls, and the Campus Center.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020: As the number of cases in Mass. exceed 6000, Gov. Charlie Baker extends non-essential business closures.

According to Mass.gov, there are now 6620 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. An additional 33 deaths have occurred, bringing the total to 89.

The Baker administration announced earlier Tuesday that the essential services order will be extended until May 4, rather than the original date of April 7. As stated by the governor’s press release, non-essential businesses “are to continue operations through remote means that do not require workers, customers, or the public to enter or appear at the brick-and-mortar premises closed by the order. This order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people until May 4th.”

Monday, March 30, 2020: Almost 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases emerge in Mass. and a UMass professor finds that medical masks can be safely reused.

Monday’s report on Mass.gov indicated that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is at 5752 now in the state; a 797 case increase from Sunday. Hampshire county currently has a total of 49 cases of the virus. An additional eight individuals have passed away, as a result, the majority of whom were in their 70s and 80s.

As hospitals are becoming inundated with patients, many are running out of protective gear. This past weekend news surfaced that, Richard Peltier, an Environmental Science professor at UMass had proven that N95 masks can be safely reused by healthcare professionals. Similar to surgical tools, they would have to undergo hydrogen peroxide sterilization which may lead to slight wear and tear on the mask. But that they are still equally effective when reused.

Sunday, March 29, 2020: Death counts rise as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases brushes 5,000 and Gov. Charlie Baker announces the launch of a portal for Personal Protective Equipment.

According to Mass.gov, the number of Coronavirus cases on Sunday is now at 4955 cases; a 16 percent increase from Saturday. The counties with the highest number of confirmed cases are Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex. Additionally, there have been four new deaths, bringing the death toll to 48 people.

The Baker administration announced earlier on Sunday, the creation of a portal on Mass.gov, which will be used by organizations and individuals to have one specific place to donate or sell Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). 

Saturday, March 28, 2020: Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to jump in Mass. and students receive an alert about a phishing scam.

In Saturday’s COVID-19 report on Mass.gov, 4,257 individuals have been diagnosed with coronavirus or an increase of 1017 cases. An additional nine people have passed away from the virus, the majority of whom were in their 80s and 90s. 

In an email sent out on Saturday afternoon, UMass informed its community about a phishing scam where an email, subjected “Payroll Schedule”, that looked like it had been sent by the university, attempted to steal the user’s Net ID and password by using a link to a fake login page. It requested that community members do not respond to the email and if they already had to change their Net ID passwords. 

Friday, March 27, 2020: Over 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 now in Mass., Gov. Charlie Baker orders new statewide regulations and UMass announces refunds for students with on-campus room and board fees and costs.

Friday’s report on coronavirus cases within Massachusetts from Mass.gov, indicated that the number of diagnosed cases has risen to 3,240 cases or a roughly 34% increase from Thursday. An additional ten deaths have occurred, all of the individuals were over the age of 60.

During a press conference at 11 a.m. on Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker issued new restrictions on those who are traveling to Massachusetts or returning from out of state destinations to self-quarantine for 14 days. The deadline for filing the past year’s individual income tax is now the same date as the deadline for filing the federal individual income tax, July 15. Its previous deadline was April 15th.

Massachusetts is also introducing a number of changes to who can practice medicine, in the hopes of better-combating the coronavirus. Eligible fourth-year medical students will be able to graduate early. Doctors who have graduated but are still receiving post-graduate training will now be issued Emergency 90-Day Medical Licenses to practice medicine. An increased number of experienced nurse practitioners will now be able to prescribe medications. The state is also introducing the 1135 waiver for Medicare and Medicaid to reduce barriers to coverage and allow for faster coverage for those applying. The state has also instituted MA Response, a volunteer-based medical program and is encouraging residents to use Buoy, to check their symptoms against corona’s and streamline resources.  

Early Friday afternoon, Andrew Mangels, the Vice-Chancellor of Administration and Finance sent an email to the student population formally announcing changes to the student room and board fees and costs for on-campus students for the Spring 2020 semester. According to the email, this decision was made by President Meehan and Chancellor Subbaswamy as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the fact that many students had to move off-campus by March 22, in accordance with the safety precautions. UMass will grant the cost adjustment to students’ university accounts by April 17. The credit will be applied to any unpaid charges first, and then students will be given the choice of putting the money towards next semester’s bill, taking a cash refund. If a student, to whom this concerns, takes no action a check will be issued to them in the matter of a month. A similar refund process will be applied for on-campus parking fees.

Thursday, March 26, 2020: Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to escalate in Mass., UMass announces the offering of several virtual mental health programs, remote workout classes and many other programs.

According to Thursday’s report from Mass.gov, there are now 2417 cases of Coronavirus in Massachusetts, an increase of 579 cases from Wednesday. There were an additional 10 ten new deaths from the virus Thursday, with seven of those who died having known pre-existing conditions. And the majority of victims being between the ages of 70 and 90.

According to UMass’ daily coronavirus update, there are 577 students continuing to reside on campus. While a number of staff are continuing to work on campus, using a new rotation schedule and staggering shifts.

The university has also begun offering virtual mental health services including a free one month trial to a meditation service, Journey Live Meditation (signing up just requires a netID), on Fridays there is an online support group to help students struggling mentally as a result of the pandemic called “Coping with Covid”. Additionally, UMass alumnae Molly Keehn, Ed.D, and Karl Henricksen are offering two info sessions of their 12-week mental wellbeing program, CoJourn, to the campus community. CoJourn is “a personal development program that trains pairs of people to partner up for more external accountability, connection, and support as they pursue goals.” The info sessions are scheduled for April 2, at 7 p.m., and April 3, at 1:30 p.m, and to be conducted via Zoom. These are just a few of the many programs being offered to aide the campus community during these uncertain times.

A number of departments have started to offer virtual events and programming. The campus rec center is now offering virtual workout classes along with IMB League Tournaments for a number of video games such as FIFA and NBA2K. The LRC is offering virtual supplemental instruction and tutoring, and the student success toolkit. Finally, a number of centers including Stonewall, CMASS, and Off-campus student life are offering virtual support and events. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: More than 700 new cases of the virus emerge in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker closes all public schools until May 4 and orders new safety precautions for grocery stores and pharmacies and Chancellor Subbaswamy shares an encouraging update.

In Wednesday’s report on Mass.gov, the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases has risen to 1,838 cases, an increase of approximately 59 percent from yesterday, along with four new deaths. All of the victims were in their 70s and 80s and three out of the four victims had confirmed pre-existing conditions.

Gov. Charlie Baker issued new orders Wednesday afternoon to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He announced that all public schools in Massachusetts will remain closed until May 4. Additionally, he ordered more precautions to protect the elderly and other high-risk customers in grocery stores and pharmacies including, providing one-hour per day for adults over 60 years old, and designating a “Social Distancing Line” where customers maintain a six-feet distance from each other.

Chancellor Subbaswamy’s update Wednesday afternoon noted the UMASS Amherst community’s accomplishment of transitioning to online learning and faculty and staff member’s “contributions to the broader community response to the COVID 19 crisis [such as] staff gather[ing] medical equipment to donate to healthcare workers.” Ending his update, Subaswammy stated his confidence in the community’s resiliency and its “revolutionary spirit” throughout these difficult times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: The number of cases in Massachusetts rapidly grows overnight and UMass suspends move-out plans following Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay at home advisory.

According to Mass.gov, there are now 1,159 cases of the virus in Massachusetts.

Following Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay at home advisory from yesterday, UMass Residential Life notified students that the move-out process will be suspended until April 7. Jean Ahlstrand MacKimmie, director of residence education, and Dawn M. Bond, director of residential operations, wrote, “When the stay-at-home advisory is lifted, we will reassess any new guidelines before reinstating the sequenced move-out process for all remaining resident.”

While they will continue to update the community, students are encouraged to contact Residential Life Student Services at [email protected] with any questions and/or concerns.

Monday, March 23, 2020: More than 100 more cases of the virus emerge in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker orders a stay at home advisory and all non-essential businesses to stop in-person operation and UMass begins remote learning for the remainder of the semester.  

The latest Mass.gov report reveals there are now 777 cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

In a press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that a stay at home advisory will take effect Tuesday, March 24, at noon, and all non-essential businesses will be closed for the next two weeks. As stated by the governor’s press release, “Due to evolving spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, Governor Baker has directed the Department of Public Health to issue a stay at home advisory outlining self-isolation and social distancing protocols. Residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during this two-week time period.”

Monday, UMass students began online classes via Zoom meetings, Moodle assignments and various other methods of remote learning. Additionally, eCampus, which is the official bookstore for UMass, has partnered with VitalSource to help students access a range of textbooks this semester. Its website explains, “VitalSource Helps is a program designed to support students and instructors who may have lost access to course materials due to a campus moving to distance learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” This partnership will allow UMass students to access ebooks until May 25, 2020.

Sunday, March 22, 2020: COVID-19 is targeting people of all ages, UMass announces option for Pass/Fail grading for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term and encourages self-quarantine for two weeks for those returning from Spring Break trips.

According to Sunday’s report from Mass.gov, the number of cases of the virus in Massachusetts is steadily increasing to today’s total of 646. Furthermore, the data shows that those contracting the virus is not restricted to one age group. Everyone is susceptible to it, regardless of age: 18 people under the age of 19 have been infected by the virus, while 93 people in the 20-29 age demographic, 112 individuals ages 30-39, 134 people ages 40-49 and 119 people ages 50-59 and 170 people over the age of 60.

On Saturday, UMass sent out an announcement regarding the option for students to choose Pass/Fail for all classes with a letter grade until April 29, with no penalty. The previous guidelines concerning the number of Pass/Fail classes a student is allowed to take to graduate has been suspended for the remainder of the Spring 2020 term. Graduating seniors will have up to six months after graduation to choose Pass/Fail for any of their classes before their grades are “locked in.”

Sunday, in an email to off-campus students, UMass encouraged those returning from Spring Break trips to the Amherst area or other communities practice a two-week self-quarantine, to protect those around them from contracting the virus. And those that were not, to practice safety precautions during this turbulent time such as social distancing and limited social gatherings.

Saturday, March 21, 2020: Two cases of COVID-19 are now confirmed in Hampshire County as there is the biggest increase in cases in the state.

Saturday’s report from Mass.gov documented two confirmed cases of  COVID-19 in Hampshire County. In Massachusetts, there are now 525 reported cases of the virus, an 112 case increase from Friday.

Friday, March 20, 2020: Number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise as first death is reported, while young adults are exhibiting severe symptoms from the virus and UMass shares a dining update for the remainder of the semester.

According to Friday’s report from Mass.gov, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to escalate with an 84 case increase from Thursday. There are now 413 cases in Massachusetts.

Friday morning, there was speculation that a state shutdown was going to occur this coming weekend after reports arose of the first death in the state, and California shutting down Thursday night. Gov. Charlie Baker denied that rumor in his daily update and assured the public that he did not have current plans to shut the state down this weekend.

There has also been a myth surfacing in which young adults cannot contract the virus. Specifically, that only people who are compromised and a part of the elderly population are at risk. That is incorrect. According to new information surfacing, many young adults are experiencing severe symptoms: such as body aches, high temperatures, extreme fatigue, temporary hearing loss and an incredibly raw throat.

In the daily update email, UMass Amherst shared an update regarding dining halls in order to provide meals for students with extenuating circumstances who are allowed to stay on campus as well as the necessary remaining employees. Starting March 23, Berkshire and Worcester Dining Commons will be open daily from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., and The Blue Wall will also be open daily from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. All meals will be take-out only.

Thursday, March 19, 2020: Number of COVID-19 cases jumps as the first case is confirmed in Hampshire County; UMass Residence Hall alerts students to a new move-out process

The latest report from Mass.gov, shows a 72 case increase, with the first case reported in Hampshire County. The number of cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts is now 328.

Thursday morning, UMass Amherst announced their Residence Hall Move-Out plan to allow for social distancing while the campus community gathers their belongings. According to the instructions, students will need to log into their Spire account and make a reservation to move out of their dorm room, this coming weekend March 21 or 22, under the Residential Life tab. Students will be allotted a two-hour time block which they will be granted card access to their residence hall and will be expected to leave their room key in the envelope taped to their door.

For students who have already packed and are not planning to return to campus are encouraged to reply to the email that was sent with any questions that they have or to use the information on their website for mailing back their key. The deadline to return keys is March 23 at 5 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Number of COVID-19 cases in Mass. jumps, social distancing doesn’t exist during Spring Break, more colleges are switching to Pass/Fail grading for the remainder of the semester and UMass reveals new Response Team.

According to Mass.gov, there are now 256 cases of the virus in Massachusetts. Since Tuesday, 38 new cases have emerged.

While some people are spending Spring Break distancing themselves from others, large groups of people are still gathering at beaches and bars. Many are college students who either refused to cancel the plans that they made months in advance, or they don’t believe the severity of the virus. While some beaches and bars are shutting down as per the advice of local, state and federal officials, many students expressed their frustration, arguing, “Whatever happens, happens.”

As colleges across the country have decided to transition to remote learning, many are also switching their grading system to Pass/Fail. One blog is even keeping track of which schools have decided to change their standard grading system. You can also stay up to date by checking the blog’s hashtag on Twitter: #PassFailNation.

While UMass has yet to announce any decision on adjusting its grading system, a new HR Response Team has been created to address concerns of exposure among students, faculty and staff. Those who are concerned about possible exposure to COVID-19 should contact the University Health Services Triage Advice Nurse at (413) 577-5229 for further guidance, this includes students who have already gone home and “test positive in the future.”

The email also advised all campus personnel “who are concerned about potential exposure because they believe an employee has tested positive, is presumptive positive, or has been in contact with someone they think has been infected by the coronavirus,” should contact the COVID-19 HR Response Team at (413)-687-2283 or [email protected]

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: As the number of cases in Massachusetts grows, UMass postpones commencement. 

As of Tuesday, March 17, there are 197 cases in Massachusetts. The number rose from 164 to 197 by Monday, but according to the Boston Globe, the amount might be much greater. The Globe reported that scientists Jeffrey Shaman and Samuel Scarpino, who are studying the growth of the COVID-19 virus, explain that these numbers don’t account for people who are either infected but haven’t been tested or present mild to almost no symptoms yet. 

Shaman’s research, which studied where pandemic began in Wuhan, China, warns citizens “that ‘stealth transmissions’ from seemingly healthy people were responsible for the explosive speed of the outbreak.” In other words, Shaman’s findings urge social distancing to prevent the communal spreading of the virus.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy notified students via email that commencement 2020 will be postponed. He wrote, “because of the ongoing prohibition of large gatherings and our own efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19, commencement, which was scheduled for Friday, May 8th, and all commencement weekend activities, will be postponed.”

Subbaswamy explained that, while there is currently no plan for how commencement will run, he is open to ideas from the community. “I work with our commencement team to develop alternative plans, I invite input from our students for whom this day means so much,” wrote Subbaswamy. “Those wishing to share ideas can email them to commencement@umass.edu. As our plans take shape, we will keep the campus updated.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Happy St. Patrick’s Day. The bars are closed.

And that’s okay, because you should all be social distancing. Read about it here.

Monday, March 16, 2020: News about internships

Are you doing an internship this semester? Here’s an update from Whitmore.

On Monday, March 16, Senior Vice Provost Carol Barr announced that students performing internships that are NOT REQUIRED by any accrediting or licensure body should work with their internship sponsor and host employer on either working remotely from home or an alternative independent study approach with their faculty/academic unit to complete their internship for credit.

“If the student is currently in residential housing on either the UMass Amherst or Mount Ida campus they should return home,” she wrote in a memo to deans and department chairs. “If they have personal circumstances preventing them from returning home they should indicate this need for housing through the Residential Life communication that will be sent to all students who have a residence hall assignment. Questions can be emailed to [email protected]

Also from the memo:

“Students on clinicals, internships, student teaching practicums REQUIRED by their accrediting, licensure bodies will receive communications from their UMass Amherst academic areas and program directors on whether these experiences will continue (based on the protocol being used by the host site and if the student feels safe in continuing).

Students in these required experiences should work directly with their program coordinators on information and instructions surrounding the students’ placement.  Students who will continue in their current placement and who are living in a residential hall on the UMass Amherst campus will be allowed to continue to live on campus if by returning home their home location is too far away from their clinical, internship, practicum site.  A communication from Residential Life will be sent to these students with a link to request continuation of their housing assignment. If the student has any questions they can email [email protected]

Monday, March 16, 2020: State reports first official case in Hampden County

Since COVID-19’s first case arrival into Massachusetts a little over a week ago via a medical conference in Boston, the number of those infected has been steadily climbing. As of today, March 16, 2020, the total number of cases confirmed and documented by state officials amounts to 197, with a total of 14 hospitalized.

On Sunday, the first case in Hampden County was confirmed, having been treated at Baystate Medical Center. According to local news sources, the patient is stable and now at home. The hospital declined to give any further information. There have still been no reported cases in Franklin or Hampshire counties of western Mass.

Sunday, March 15, 2020: UMass switches to online learning for the remainder of the semester.

AMHERST–As students departed from campus for Spring Break on Friday, March 13, more questions than answers loomed about what’s going to happen this semester, with courses, fees, graduation and other spring traditions. All we know right now is that remote learning will continue until the end of the semester.

Friday night, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy sent an email and accompanying video notifying both faculty and students of the decision to suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the semester.

All classes are now “without exception,” transitioning online. 

This means the only people allowed on campus are “weather-designated essential personnel.” Students who are allowed to live on campus during Spring Break are being asked to leave by March 21. As for the rest of the student body, updates will be sent out shortly.

“Student Affairs and Campus Life will provide more information next week, including details on procedures for how students can request on-going accommodations and how students may return to campus at a later date to retrieve their belongings,” wrote Subbaswamy. 

This move comes as a growing number of colleges around the country have taken similar actions, while public health officials are urging increased “social distancing” to curtail the spread of COVID-19 virus.

Please check back for more information. We’ll be updating daily.

Email Joanna at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @JBuoniconti

Email Brianna Silva at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @brisilvv.

Email Talia at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @HeiseyTalia

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