Monmouth students to return to campus weeks after COVID ‘superspreader’ event

Daniel J. Munoz//October 16, 2020

Monmouth students to return to campus weeks after COVID ‘superspreader’ event

Daniel J. Munoz//October 16, 2020

Monmouth University said it will resume a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction on Oct. 21, weeks after an off-campus “superspreader” event led to hundreds of students contracting COVID-19 and university officials practically shutting down the campus.

The West Long Branch-based university reached a peak of 193 active COVID-19 cases on Oct. 6, which has been “effectively halved” to 96 cases, according to a Friday statement.

For two weeks, students took remote-only classes, rather than the school’s original plan for 80% remote-learning and 20% on-campus.

Patrick Leahy, president, Monmouth University

“The two-week move to remote instruction was necessitated by the dramatic increase in case activity that our campus community experienced earlier this month,” Monmouth University President Patrick Leahy said on Friday.

Social interactions will be limited to five people, and mask-usage and 6-foot physical distancing is required. Indoor dining will be limited to 25% capacity, and the pool and fitness center will be allowed to reopen.

Clubs, organizations and recreational activities will resume remote-only, but the university athletic teams may resume practice and training in-person.

Since the start of the fall semester, Monmouth University reported 334 COVID-19 cases on its campus, according to the university’s COVID-19 online dashboard.

“An overwhelming majority of the recent cases we have seen can be traced back to this isolated super-spreader event,” Leahy said in an Oct. 9 statement. “Moving forward, we will need 100% cooperation from our campus community in order to resume our fall semester as planned.”

New Jersey experienced COVID-19 rebounds across its 21 counties this past week, with state health officials worried about whether the state has entered a second wave of outbreaks.

Monmouth County, driven by the university’s outbreaks, had been one of the hardest hit counties this past month.

New Jersey logged 823 additional COVID-19 positive cases on Friday, 88 of them in Monmouth County. Ocean County, particularly the ultra-Orthodox Jewish-majority community of Lakewood, has driven the lion’s share of new cases, but data from Friday show the enclave came in sixth place this month in terms of new daily cases, as opposed to its first place rankings over these past several weeks.

State health officials suggested they may employ hyper-local restrictions in specific communities, rather than at a statewide level, to curb the spread of the virus. That could mean looking at individual school districts, the closure of local non-essential businesses in hot-spot communities, or restrictions on indoor gatherings such as at synagogues, the governor added.