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UMass Amherst Announces Operating Plan for Spring 2021 Semester

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced its spring 2021 operating plan, inviting additional students to return to campus to advance their studies. The plan prioritizes public health and safety, including expansion of the university’s successful COVID-19 testing program.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, in a message to the campus community, noted that “our strategic focus is on advancing students’ academic progress toward degree completion while providing a campus environment that meets federal and state health and safety protocols for mitigating COVID-19.” Specific cohorts of undergraduate students will be given the option to live on campus, representing about 60% of the typical residential population.

Full details of the plan can be found at www.umass.edu/coronavirus. The spring Semester starts Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

Subbaswamy, informed by the public-health and academic recommendations of the campus strategy group, determined that in-person, face-to-face instruction for undergraduate and graduate students will be offered on campus this spring in certain classes, labs, and studios identified as requiring in-person instruction. First-year students may also be provided with a face-to-face instructional opportunity, although the majority of the teaching in the spring semester will be fully remote.

In addition, specific cohorts of undergraduate students, whose academic success is most closely associated with on-campus learning and living, will be given the option to live on campus for the spring semester. These cohorts include students enrolled in mandatory face-to-face classes; students dependent on the university for housing and dining, including international students, as well as students requiring specific academic accommodations or those participating in athletics; and first-year students and entering transfer students enrolled in fall 2020 and spring 2021.

These groups of undergraduate students represent approximately 60% of the campus’s usual residential population. Students who decline this invitation would join all other students who will continue to engage in remote learning from their homes or their off-campus residences. The university is also exploring alternative residential options beyond the Amherst area, including increasing the housing capacity on the Mount Ida campus in Newton.

“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,” Subbsawamy 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. However, at 60% capacity, we are confident we can provide all of these vital services to our campus community while fulfilling our educational mission.”

The university confidence is bolstered in part, Subbaswamy said, by the success of UMass Amherst’s symptomatic and asymptomatic-testing and contact-tracing program. The fourth-largest such operation in the state, behind only Boston, Worcester, and Cambridge, the UMass testing center has conducted more than 100,000 tests since it opened in August and, in conjunction with a comprehensive contact tracing activities, has revealed a cumulative positivity rate of 0.15%, well below most peer institutions as well as the state rate of 0.8%.

“Remarkably, as of this writing, there has been only one positive case detected in our current residential population,” he added. “That is a testament to our students’ commitment to following public-health protocols.”

Subbaswamy emphasized that the university’s plan to partially repopulate the campus in the spring semester will require strict adherence to updated and expanded protocols regarding twice-weekly testing, daily self-monitoring and reporting, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, limited travel away from campus, and prohibition of guests in residence halls, dining commons, and other campus buildings.

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