The University of Maryland, College Park is telling students in campus housing to “sequester in place” and will suspend in-person classes amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
Students were told Saturday morning to remain in their rooms and residence halls as much as possible starting at noon. If they go outside, it should only be for fresh air immediately outside residence halls or to pick up food, the university said.
The sequester-in-place also applies to sorority and fraternity houses on campus, the university said. In-person instruction will transition online starting Monday, but certain lab research can continue at reduced capacity.
UMD has been grappling with several clusters of three or more cases and outbreaks of five or more cases in on- and off-campus housing, the school said. Students who live off-campus are encouraged to stay home and limit activities.
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“We do not take lightly that these new measures impact everyday lives. We are keenly aware of the toll this virus is taking on our collective and individual mental health,” University President Darryll J. Pines said on Twitter.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) released a statement Saturday which issued a harsh rebuke of the university’s handling of the pandemic, saying the union's “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.”
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“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,” Patrick Moran, the president of AFSCME Council 3, said.
The heightened measures are set to be in place through at least Feb. 27, the school said in a release.
Some students said they've gotten used to staying in.
"We're honestly already all virtual, like our classes are, so it's not going to be a big difference, but hopefully this will like open up things so that in the fall we can do in-person classes," one student said.
The University of Maryland's women's basketball game apparently wasn't affected by the stricter measures, and began at noon in the XFINITY Center as planned.
Under the heightened measures, only certain students are allowed to report for work, including at Resident Life, Residential Facilities, Dining Services and Testing in Stamp, the university said.
"It's frustrating in the short term," another student said. "You come down to Maryland for the college experience, but it's not the administration's fault that Covid is happening, so I think it's the right call in the long term."
“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,” Todd Holden, president of AFSCME Local 1072, which represents over 3,300 workers at UMCP and UMGC, said.
Maryland says it is testing students who come to campus twice a month. The school's data dashboard case numbers were last updated a week ago.
In response to the rise in cases, this week the university began implementing stricter measures to slow the spread of the virus.
Gatherings were limited, the Eppley Recreation Center was closed and the university said it would strongly enforce social distancing.
Holden said the union met Friday with the administration about ensuring frontline workers received extra COVID leave "because they keep getting exposed to or sick with COVID. UMCP refused."
He also said they were not informed during that meeting 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."
UMD said it communicated to the union in November "its desire and intent to begin collective bargaining negotiations over successor agreements... earlier than usual."
"During collective bargaining negotiations, all topics brought to the table will be discussed and considered as required, which may include discussions over COVID-19-related working conditions," UMD said.
News4's Darcy Spencer contributed to this report.