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Local Catholic colleges deal with coronavirus as students return

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As students return to campuses this fall, colleges around the country are dealing with the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks, including Catholic colleges in the Boston area.

This week, Merrimack College announced that the school was temporarily closing one of its residence halls after a number of students residing there tested positive for COVID-19.

In a Sept. 22 letter from administrators to students, faculty, and staff, the college said it was quarantining all residential students in Monican Hall after the number of residents testing positive for COVID grew from one to 17 over the course of a week.

According to the college, over 250 of Monican Hall's 266 residents will quarantine off-campus while the remainder will quarantine in designated on-campus facilities. While the dorm is empty, it will be professionally cleaned and disinfected.

"The College considers the number of positive cases in Monican Hall concerning, and is moving aggressively through its protocols of contact tracing, isolation, and quarantining to minimize the effect on the campus and community. We remind everyone we have built a very impressive surveillance testing system, and it is detecting exactly what it is designed to detect," the letter said.

As of the date of the letter, no students in the school's other residence halls had tested positive for the coronavirus in the previous 10 days. Contact tracing and testing were ongoing.

"We prepared for this, and we will do everything possible to stop the spread and minimize any impact. We do expect more positives as a result of our aggressive testing of Monican students and will follow our protocols if that happens," the Merrimack administrators said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Sept. 15 that the state is currently reviewing all of the protocols associated with testing and contact tracing, and isolation and quarantining at colleges and universities in Massachusetts following a coronavirus outbreak at Boston College the previous week.

Baker said the state had put in place what he described as a "very robust platform" for testing and contact tracing at the more than 100 colleges in the state.

With regular testing going on at the vast majority of those campuses, the state has seen a low rate of transmission, the Republican said at an afternoon press conference. He said the state plans to be in touch again with colleges.

"Clearly we need to make sure we stay on top of this," he said.

Boston College announced in early September that it was suspending activities for its men's and women's swimming and diving program after some team members tested positive for the coronavirus. A college spokesperson said at the time that the athletes who tested positive were in isolation.

Overall, the state continues to have one of the lowest positive test rates in the country, something Baker credited to residents adhering to key public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask in public and maintaining social distance.

"While they may seem annoying at times and pedantic, they are effective," he said. "The people of Massachusetts have done an extraordinary job staying vigilant."

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