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University of Maryland tells students to isolate over rise in COVID-19 cases

UMD courses will switch to all online for a week and officials say students on and off-campus should stay home and quarantine as much as possible.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A recent rise in cases of COVID-19 has led the University of Maryland to put stricter policies in place, including that students must quarantine for a week.

In-person classes for undergraduate and graduate students will transition to online for at least the next week, and students have to isolate themselves to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Effective Saturday, the school is implementing these rules to mitigate the coronavirus on campus, University President Darryll J. Pines said in a statement. The measures will remain for at least one week, through Saturday, Feb. 27.

Students living in residence hall dorms and on-campus fraternity and sorority houses must "sequester-in-place" starting at noon on Saturday. The school says that means students are instructed to stay in their rooms as much as they can.

“It said you know you have to quarantine for the time being and you’re not really allowed to go anywhere, food and fresh air that’s about it. And hearing those words I thought are we in college or are we in prison,” UMD freshman Lauren Haffner said.

Haffner said she had been made aware of COVID-19 cases on campus and in her dorm in the days prior to the university asking students to sequester in place.

“Earlier that week we heard there was an outbreak in my dorm on the third floor so we were freaking out about that. We're like, oh no, our hall is going to get shut down what's going to happen, and then it turns out that the whole school got shut down, which was crazy,” Haffner said.

The University's COVID-19 Dashboard reported 95 new cases the week of Feb. 14 to Feb. 20. That does not include 121 unverified tests that were self-reported by people who had been on the UMD campus or the greater College Park area in the last 14 days.

Credit: University of Maryland COVID-19 Dashboard

The Stamp Student Union will stay open only for COVID-19 testing and grab-and-go food. RecWell facilities will be closed. Students may go outside to pick-up food from dining halls and to get fresh air, but only in the area immediately surrounding their residence hall. Students working in dorms and food services are able to report to work as long as they wear a face mask and keep 6 feet away from others. 

People on-campus are still required to be tested for COVID-19 twice a month.

The college also says students living off-campus in the greater College Park area are strongly encouraged to stay home as much as possible.

All in-person instruction for undergraduate and graduate courses will transition to online starting on Monday. Approved laboratory research activities, already operating at 50% capacity, can continue as scheduled with masking and social distancing precautions, the university says.

The Wicomico Hall dorm has been opened as an isolation space for people who test positive for the virus. More capacity will be opened as necessary, the college says.

Credit: UMD
COVID-19 cases on campus have had the highest spike since last fall, according to the university's dashboard.

The university has had a sharp increase in coronavirus cases over the past week. It recorded 32 positive tests on Thursday, 22 on Friday and 16 on Saturday. Since Feb. 6, not including those three days, 10 had been the highest number of cases found on a single day.

In a statement from the employees union that represents a portion of University of Maryland workers, AFSCME said is was "appalled at the news of yet another outbreak."

Below is the full statement from AFSCME:

We are again appalled at the news of yet another outbreak within the University System of Maryland (USM) at the University of Maryland, College Park. Our union has been demanding negotiations with the USM and UMCP about health and safety for almost a year, but they have refused. In order to preserve the wellbeing of the students, frontline staff, and the greater community we again call on them to negotiate immediately. Our calls for greater safety measures, procedures, and protocols have been ignored for too long and this is part of the reason we continue to have bad outcomes on campuses.

At our first meeting just before the State of Maryland shut down in March of 2020, USM officials met with AFSCME and said they didn’t need to bargain health and safety because they believe this would “blow over” and we should negotiate with every campus in the system. The largest campus in the system has also refused to bargain with us and virtually no other campuses have come to an agreement with us as their administrations want to water down safety measures.

Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Council 3 said “Almost a year later and thousands of USM students and staff have been sickened by COVID-19. The USM continues to refuse to bargain comprehensive health and safety protocols with AFSCME so that every campus in the system has clear standards to protect the entire community. Its mind boggling how leaders in higher education continue to turn their backs on students and staff with these outbreaks happening at FSU, UMCP, SU, TU, BSU, and others. We have had many different negotiations and meetings about the same issues campus to campus over and over again with bad outcomes. This is why we need central, comprehensive, negotiations with the USM to ensure health and safety for all.”

Todd Holden, president of AFSCME Local 1072, which represents over 3,300 workers at UMCP and UMGC, said “Every day more and more people get sick at the College Park campus and yet the administration and the USM refuse to bargain with us, the workers charged with keeping our campuses safe. We have been calling for more testing, screening, PPE, protocols, and more for months but it falls on deaf ears. Just yesterday we met with the administration about ensuring our frontline workers received extra COVID leave, like other Big Ten schools, because they keep getting exposed to or sick with COVID. UMCP refused. At the same meeting they did not notify us about the pending campus wide shut down and how our members, who clean, cook and maintain dormitories, academic and administrative buildings on campus, will do their jobs with infected students in dorms throughout campus.”

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