Dear Campus Community,
As finals conclude, we congratulate everyone on a successful semester and wish our graduates the best in all their future endeavors.
Today, we are announcing updates to COVID-19 testing operations on campus. Effective Monday, May 16, the Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC) will move the pick-up location for unobserved testing kits, antigen (at-home) tests and KN95 masks to Draper Hall, home of the Environmental Health and Safety department. The Unobserved PCR Testing Program is being extended until June 30 to serve students, faculty, staff and members of their households, as well as university-sponsored visitors. For more information about hours and drop box locations, please visit the COVID-19 Testing Program webpage. Meanwhile, the PHPC vaccine clinic has closed for the spring semester and will reopen in early June. To find a nearby COVID-19 vaccine location, you can visit the vaxfinder website.
As the university looks ahead to commencement activities, the campus is closely watching COVID-19 cases. UMass Amherst is fortunate that the campus community is highly vaccinated and that individuals testing positive are experiencing minimal-to-moderate symptoms of infection, and hospitalizations have remained extremely low. With cases increasing in Massachusetts and nationally, the university knows that its commencement events draw thousands from all over. To protect yourself and others, the campus strongly encourages all graduates and guests to wear a face covering when attending any indoor commencement events, regardless of vaccination status.
The latest COVID-19 testing data for the UMass community for May 4-10 shows 287 new positive cases. The university’s positivity rate is 9.45% compared to last week’s rate of 6.91%. The state’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.89%. The campus positivity rate for PCR tests (unobserved test kits) this week is 6.4%.
UMass is experiencing positive cases similar to many statewide rates in the Northeast, including Massachusetts. We do believe it is important to place the latest positivity rate in context. First, over the last few weeks, the PHPC has distributed over 22,000 self-test antigen test kits. More than one-third of this week’s positive cases are from these type of tests. Our case numbers include positive, self-reported antigen tests, but they do not include negative results of antigen tests since they are not provided to UMass. Second, voluntary testing has been associated with a high percentage of individuals who are reporting symptoms at the time of testing (90%). As a result of these factors, the positivity rate trended higher.
Within this context, it is clear that individuals are continuing to follow the public health best practices: testing when they have symptoms and reporting their positive results to the UMass public health team. As we noted above, individuals testing positive are experiencing minimal-to-moderate symptoms of infection, and hospitalizations are low. Medical experts now observe that the effectiveness of measures designed to prevent severe illness and hospitalization, as well as continuing to provide accommodations for vulnerable populations, are more significant than traditional case counts in developing public health guidance. As we near the third year of the pandemic, it is clear that COVID-19 will be present for the foreseeable future. Importantly, we have learned that vaccinations and boosters have proven effective at protecting people from serious illness and hospitalization. In our highly vaccinated UMass Amherst campus, during 2022 the hospitalization rate for the entire community is 0.01% and for those who tested positive within our community it is 0.10%. We truly appreciate everyone getting vaccinated and staying up to date with their COVID-19 boosters.
We continue to encourage everyone to complete a daily symptom check. If you are sick, stay home and get tested. Be aware that allergy symptoms can resemble those of COVID-19; when you are unsure, please wear a mask, get tested and use caution until you know the results. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, please wear a mask and get tested on the fifth day after exposure. As a reminder, individuals should continue to report their positive tests to firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage you to take advantage of our free testing services before you leave campus.
This is the last weekly PHPC message for the spring semester. We would like to thank everyone on campus for their commitment to public health — staying home when sick, testing when you have symptoms, and supporting each other as part of our community.
Co-Directors of the Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC)
Ann Becker, Public Health Director
Jeffrey Hescock, Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety