N.J. university to resume in-person classes after COVID-19 outbreak

Monmouth University will resume limited in-person classes next week, but maintain strict limits for on-campus gatherings following a coronavirus outbreak among students.

The private university in West Long Branch paused campus activities earlier this month following an off-campus “super-spreader” event that led to about 125 COVID-19 cases, according to university officials.

President Patrick Leahy announced Friday that he will allow the limited number of courses that began the semester in-person to return to the classroom beginning Oct. 21. Athletic activities, on hold for the past two weeks, will also be allowed to restart, Leahy wrote in a letter to students and staff.

“While I fully recognize that not everyone will agree with this decision, we have determined that this is a reasonable and safe course of action,” Leahy wrote.

The university’s outbreak underscored not only how quickly the virus can spread, but also how powerless colleges are to control student behavior outside of campus.

The university reported only 39 coronavirus cases between the beginning of the semester and Sept 25. But a gathering at an off-campus residence in late September directly led to about 125 cases, according to the university. The total number of cases among students and staff ballooned to 291 by Oct. 9.

After reaching a peak of 193 active cases on Oct. 6, the university is down to 96, Leahy wrote. The total number of confirmed cases since the beginning of the semester is 338, including five employees.

“I am confident that we can continue to enjoy a safe and healthy fall semester on campus if we remember to continually back up, mask up, and wash up,” Leahy wrote.

The university is also lifting its temporary ban on indoor dining and reopening its pool and fitness center. However, it is requiring clubs and organizations to meet virtually and maintaining a five-person limit on in-person gatherings.

Leahy is also asking students living on campus to remain in their residence halls during the upcoming fall break.

“If cases begin to surge again, we will have little choice but to switch back to 100% remote instruction and send all residential students home for the remainder of the semester, Leahy warned.

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