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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

Special Issue: A year of COVID-19 at UMass

Over the past year, the Daily Collegian has covered the virus’ impact on the school community as the situation unfolded

March 13, 2021

Last March, it was impossible to predict the effect that a mysterious virus, which appeared across the globe months earlier, could have on the UMass community and the world. Now, exactly a year after students were informed that campus would be closed for the spring semester, it’s still difficult to comprehend the amount of change, struggle and loss that have characterized the last 12 months.

When UMass students were sent home, what seemed like a temporary inconvenience at the time soon became a way of life: remote learning, socially distanced gatherings and constant uncertainty about what the future would bring. The only certainty was that nothing would be normal.

In-person commencement was canceled and replaced with a virtual ceremony. Furloughs and layoffs coincided with changes to the campus’ operating plan. Students struggled to find the motivation to perform well in school under the abnormal conditions. The virus impacted nearly every aspect of life for students, professors, employees and local residents.

Coinciding with the issues created by the pandemic was the University’s battle to contain a deadly virus, balancing an effort to return to a sense of normalcy with the safety of the greater community. In a year with constant unforeseen obstacles, that balancing act proved difficult to maintain for the school on several occasions as tensions reached a boiling point.

Over the past year, the Daily Collegian has worked tirelessly to cover the virus’ impact on the school community. Here’s how the situation developed at UMass:

Picks from each section:

One year of COVID at UMass: An interview with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy

Photo Collection: COVID-19, One Year Later

An inside look at UMass hockey’s final days

Staying sane in quarantine

Opinion: COVID-19 took my sense of smell and it could take yours

Podcast: COVID Anniversary Edition – Reflecting on a year in the pandemic

 

***

MarchTransition to remote learning | Students leave campus | Study abroad impacted

AprilFirst COVID-19 case at UMass | Medical students move to the frontline

MayCommencement moved to virtual setting | UMass employees furloughed 

SummerUMass lays out Fall 2020 plan | RA/PM Union demands | Reopening plan adjusted

SeptemberFirst COVID-19 spike | 850 employees furloughed | Cluster of cases grows

OctoberGrowing tensions between UMass, town residents | Spring semester plan unveiled

NovemberUniversity sees second COVID-19 spike | UMass navigates school, town tensions

DecemberRA/PM Union reach agreement with UMass | Testing capacity at UMass expands

JanuaryUMass prepares for spring semester | Student recounts racism abroad

FebruaryCases at UMass skyrocket | Three fraternities suspended for parties | What Went Wrong series

March200 students attend Blarney Blowout party | Professors frustrated about testing compliance

***

Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

Within three days, all of the Five Colleges abruptly transitioned to remote learning. Students and professors were forced to adapt to a virtual classroom — a move that most were entirely unprepared for. 

UMass struggled to keep up with COVID-19 testing at the time, as tests were a rare commodity throughout the state. A pandemic had not yet been declared, and screenings for the lethal virus were often routine checkups rather than swab tests. One doctor encouraged a student to come back to UHS if his symptoms worsened.

March 9

Breaking: Amherst College to Move to Remote Learning After Spring Break 

March 10

Smith College joins Amherst College in moving to remote learning 

Mount Holyoke College cancels in-person classes, citing coronavirus concerns 

UHS facing limited capacity in testing amidst coronavirus concerns 

March 11

Breaking: UMass to suspend in-person classes, implement remote classes after spring break 

Most Five College Consortium students will not return from spring break 

Amherst College students attend last in-person classes for the foreseeable future 

SGA president alleges that UMass administration violated the Wellman Document in decision to suspend on-campus classes 

Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

In the following days, the gravity of the situation began to set in as classes and programs were suspended for the entirety of the spring semester. Commencement, which was two months out, was postponed. No longer was the COVID-19 situation a brief inconvenience — such alterations to daily life proved the virus was here to stay.

March 12

Travel restrictions lead to suspension of UMass European programs

March 13

UMass suspends in-person classes through the semester

March 17

UMass sends out updates regarding on-campus housing, commencement and more

UMass postpones 2020 commencement

March 22

UMass Amherst changes all undergraduate courses to optional pass/fail

The Collegian News Hour S5 E8: Remote learning, 2020 commencement and SGA

McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

With the sudden changes to campus life, the entire UMass community was impacted. Students abroad had to evacuate their respective countries at a moment’s notice. Those still on campus experienced a new way of life, characterized by an eerie atmosphere as they isolated. Businesses in town began to feel the effects as their primary source of income — students living on campus — mostly vanished overnight.

March 23

Living on campus during COVID-19

Study abroad students impacted by COVID-19

March 25

Amherst economy struggles during COVID-19 pandemic

UMass student organizations plan to continue operations remotely

When distant movies and books give horror a new meaning

March 27

UMass will reimburse students for room and board fees

March 29

The Collegian News Hour S5 E9: COVID-19 and remote learning

SLSO hosts webinar to discuss off-campus housing leases amidst shift to remote learning

Resources for students affected by COVID-19 outbreak and transition to remote learning

March 30

Accepted students react to COVID-19 related changes at UMass

Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

Then, a UMass employee tested positive for COVID-19 — the first case in the school community. Construction was brought to a halt. Campus stood still. The virus, which had largely been a far-off idea rather than an immediate threat, had arrived at the University.

UMass Medical students were called to the front lines to assist during the surge, jumping directly into the workforce from schooling. “I don’t think anything about this experience will be typical, as I think every person working health care right now will agree,” one student said. “I think any typicalness is out the window at this point.”

April 5

UMass employee tests positive for COVID-19

UMass donates equipment to health providers and first responders

April 6

COVID-19 creates financial hurdle for students, employees and University

The Collegian News Hour S5 E10: Zoom-bombing, off-campus leases and accepted students

April 7

UMass Medical School’s recent graduates are getting to work

Sustainable fashion in the era of COVID-19

April 8

Student Union construction continues with an ‘uncertain’ timeline

Jong Man Kim / Daily Collegian

As the COVID-19 situation — now classified as a pandemic — raged on, the UMass community struggled to adjust to the “new normal.” It soon became apparent that students weren’t the only ones being affected by lockdown; residents in the area were impacted significantly.

A local food pantry saw a 50 percent increase in attendance throughout the month. Graduate students fought to delay the demolition of North Village and Lincoln Apartments complexes — the latter of which was later used as housing for students with COVID-19 — to ensure that those residents wouldn’t be left without a home during the pandemic.

April 8

Students registered with UMass Disability Services adjust to remote learning

April 9

Opinion: NARRATIVES: A semester cut short

April 13

The Collegian News Hour S5 E11: Student agencies, commencement and UMass Medical School

April 15

Photographer captures faces of Amherst families living amid a pandemic in ‘Front Steps Project’

April 18

Graduate students issue emergency demands, University to move forward with North Village/Lincoln demolition plans

April 19

How did UMass respond to coronavirus?

UMass students talk spring break during COVID-19 pandemic

SGA votes not to sponsor a letter urging the administration to use UMass spaces to shelter vulnerable members of surrounding communities

UHS remains open with additional precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus

April 20

The Collegian News Hour S5 E12: Graduate student demands, SGA talks housing and UMass donates food

Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

The second case of COVID-19 came just over two weeks after the first case, with another employee testing positive. On the same day, UMass suspended plans for students to retrieve their belongings from dorms until further notice. The move coincided with Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order requiring all businesses that do not provide essential COVID-19 services to remain closed until May 4.

About 500 students were granted permission to stay on campus after others were sent home. Some described an anxiety surrounding what will happen when spring semester is over and hoped the situation would improve by summer. One student, who struggled to find solace during the first month of the pandemic, described the time as “a gigantic blur.”

“This whole incident really forced me to take a ‘day-by-day’ approach. I play each day by ear, which has turned this whole month into a gigantic blur as I can only do so much in quarantine.”

April 21

UMass reports second case of COVID-19 on campus

Move out update: UMass continues to suspend plans until further notice

Students who remain on campus describe life during the COVID-19 pandemic

UMass Student Farm continues preparations for fall semester

UMass researchers design fast-track, low-cost face shields

April 22

UMass Costume Shop delivers hundreds of cotton masks to local high-risk businesses

Coping with a transforming world with ‘The Suburbs’

April 26

UMass researchers create COVID-19 forecast hub

April 27

The Collegian News Hour S5 E13: Hillel vandalism, last SGA meeting and COVID-19 changes campus life

Alumni Association holds panel on job advice during economic uncertainty

Virtual town hall meeting held to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on students

Kira Johnson / Daily Collegian

In late April, UMass Lowell was blasted for deciding to hold a virtual commencement ceremony. A week later, the Amherst campus would follow suit, as well as the vast majority of schools across the country. 

The disproportionate effect of the pandemic on people of color was evident early on. Adequate healthcare was not always immediately available to those in vulnerable communities, and racism in the medical field led to death. The issue was underscored by the death of UMass alumna Rana Zoe Mungin, who died from the virus after being denied testing twice.

With no end to the pandemic in sight, schools began to unveil plans for fall semester — the first semester in history with most students learning remotely. The adjustments on campus were met with furloughs for employees and charges of unfair labor practices.

April 28

UMass Lowell decision for virtual commencement in May due to COVID-19 met with opposition

UMass spring and summer programming adjusted due to COVID-19

Don’t forget about the people who can’t go home during this pandemic

April 29

UMass scientists produce essential viral media for COVID-19 tests

May 1

University announced virtual senior celebration plans for May 8

May 4

Beloved teacher and UMass alum Rana Zoe Mungin dies from Coronavirus after being denied testing twice

May 6

President of Hampshire College announces plan to open the college for the fall semester

May 9

UMass adjusts financial aid, reflected in students’ refunds

May 19

Subbaswamy announces timeline for developing Fall 2020 plan

UMass announces plans to furlough employees

May 22

Town Council approves outdoor dining, zoning amendment for local restaurants

UMass President Marty Meehan to propose tuition freeze

May 27

Unfair labor practice charges filed against University

June 3

UMass 2020 graduates react to online commencement

UMass Amherst Civic Engagement Spanish class translates COVID-19 health information

June 8

UMass lays out detailed Fall 2020 proposal

Collegian File Photo

Over the summer, uncertainty about the fall semester loomed over the UMass community. Students lost internships and jobs and resident assistants and peer mentors fought for better working conditions. The pandemic continued to take its toll.

In late June, UMass released its reopening plan for the fall semester, introducing the community agreement that students were required to sign, pledging to bring 7,000 students back to campus and announcing increased testing for symptomatic students.

“We’re trying to create as much of a cocoon around the campus as possible,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy told the Daily Collegian. “The ultimate goal is to try to create as much of a closed environment here as we can and try to maintain that health throughout the period of time that students will be on campus.”

However, 18 days before the start of the semester, UMass reversed its reopening plan due to the worsening conditions of the pandemic in Massachusetts. The move left students scrambling to work out housing and finances, and just over 1,000 students would now be permitted to stay on campus.

June 11

Analysis: What we learned from UMass’ open forum on the fall semester

June 17

UMass changes Fall 2020 schedule, classes set to start two weeks sooner than expected

June 28

Students cope with losing internships and jobs

June 29

UMass announces fall semester plan

July 2

Students react to Fall 2020 plan

July 7

Student questions about on-campus living answered

July 26

Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union demands safer working conditions for fall semester amid pandemic

July 29

UMass announces updated face covering requirements for campus

August 6

RA/PM Union finalized contract with UMass

August 7

UMass still requiring students who come to campus to sign community agreement

August 8

Students worry about housing, jobs and food security following UMass’ reversal of fall reopening plan

August 13

UMass holds first night of virtual campus forum for remote students

August 15

Amherst businesses face unknowns for fall semester

After reopening reversal, UMass hosts second virtual forum for 1,069 students living on campus for Fall 2020

Your guide to COVID-19 testing at UMass this fall

August 20

Two new COVID-19 cases reported at UMass Amherst, 14 cases total since April

UMass welcomes incoming Minutemen with virtual New Students Orientation

Collegian File Photo

As the fall semester kicked off, the fears of many in the community came true. Just 34 resident assistants would be given work for the semester, nearly 850 school employees were put on furlough and students struggled to find the motivation to attend virtual classes.

Talks about following spring semester began in September. Spring break was canceled, and commencement and finals were delayed. There was no indication yet of how many students would be allowed on campus or whether there would be in-person, remote or hybrid learning.

August 24

UMass grants housing waivers for all RAs and PMs after most are left without employment

August 27

UMass projects $168.6 million loss, will furlough nearly 850 employees

August 31

A guide to virtual sorority recruitment

Freshmen respond to the fall semester

September 1

UMass sets new pass/fail rule for fall semester

UMass women’s soccer continues to land top recruits amid COVID-19

September 15

Some UMass students struggle to find motivation to attend virtual classes

September 16

International Programs Office allows few students to study abroad during pandemic

September 17

UMass outlines academic calendar for Spring 2021, spring break scrapped with start date, commencement and finals delayed

September 23

UMass faculty, students, local programs discuss anti-Asian bias and xenophobia during COVID-19

RSOs during COVID-19: UMass Tabletop

September 25

Chancellor Subbaswamy announces spring planning groups; will receive report by Oct. 21

Katherine Mayo / Daily Collegian

Just a month into the semester, the idea that UMass could prevent COVID-19 cases among students who returned to the area was shattered. A wave of cases was sparked by a party, from which 28 students tested positive. 

A spike in town followed, which coincided with anger and frustration from town residents who blamed UMass students for the uptick in cases. Discussions about the possibility of a full campus in the spring semester became common with more than 1,000 students and parents signing a petition supporting that measure — showcasing the contrasting views of some in the UMass community and town residents.

September 25

13 UMass students test positive for COVID-19 after several attended same party

September 28

Planning for the spring semester, addressing inequity and other takeaways from Alumni Town Hall

Graduate students respond to remote learning and teaching

September 29

Flagship Forward offers UMass athletics financial help in a crucial time of need

Cultural centers struggle to operate due to lack of funding

September 30

25 new UMass students test positive for COVID-19; party cluster grows to 28 cases

October 2

UMass reports 29 new cases in 2 days; Town of Amherst sees spike

October 5

International graduate students continue their work despite obstacles from the pandemic

Freshmen react to their unique first semester at UMass

October 6

Students balance challenges of synchronous and asynchronous classes

October 7

Amherst residents, school committee urge punishment for UMass students amid COVID-19 spike

October 11

Should UMass bring students back in the spring? Over 1,000 students, parents say yes in petition

First year students use Snapchat as a creative way to socialize despite remote learning

October 12

UMass field hockey is gearing up to play its season this spring

October 14

How A.J. Hastings, a mom-and-mom shop, survives COVID-19

The delayed release of blockbusters is impacting the movie theater industry

October 19

What is it like to work in UMass’ testing center?

October 20

Disability Services continues to provide UMass students with remote resources and accommodations

Esports’ prevalence in a virtual UMass community

Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

In late October, Subbaswamy announced the spring reopening plan, which originally included bringing campus to 60 percent housing capacity, with the majority of classes to be held virtually save for labs, studios and other classes which require face-to-face instruction.

The University was confident in its ability to safely invite a large number of students back, but Subbaswamy acknowledged the rising tensions between the school and town:

“While today’s announcement will undoubtedly be welcome news to many members of our campus community and disappointing to others, it is a step, albeit an incremental one, toward a time when our UMass family is fully together again.”

Two weeks after the spring semester announcement, UMass saw its second spike in COVID-19 cases, reporting 89 cases in a week period. Among large schools in the state, UMass ranked third in cases per 1,000 students.

October 23

UMass to invite first-year and transfer students to campus, mostly remote classes for spring semester in newly released plan

October 26

Public Health Promotion Center guides sick students, prevents further spread of COVID-19

Opinion: NARRATIVE: Now, more than ever, the performing arts need your support

October 27

This Halloween weekend at UMass will look very different than past years

November 5

Students react to new COVID-19 measures in Mass.

November 10

Professors respond to UMass’ plan to increase campus residency for Spring 2021

November 12

UMass sees second COVID-19 spike; 89 positive cases in last week

November 13

UMass announces COVID-19 and travel procedures over winter break

November 18

The Balancing Act: How UMass and Amherst navigate the competing needs of students, residents, parents and businesses

November 21

How does UMass’ COVID-19 response compare to other colleges in Mass.? Data analysis from schools across the state

December 1

Transfer students reflect on the virtual semester

December 4

RAs and PMs refuse to accept unsafe work, demand UMass uphold employment contract ahead of spring 2021

Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union reaches final agreement with University for Spring 2021 semester

December 7

UMass to offer free COVID-19 testing to local residents through March

December 21

What it takes to build testing capacity at UMass

January 6

UMass student recounts anti-Asian racism experienced during study abroad, pushes for change within organization

January 8

How University Health Services takes on the challenge of symptomatic COVID-19 testing

January 14

Despite COVID-19, Mock Trial team looks toward bright future

January 15

Chancellor Subbaswamy announces COVID-19 mitigation plan for spring semester

McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

There were issues immediately after the spring semester began on Feb. 1. Academic burnout among students persisted and student groups struggled to stay afloat financially. The sheer length of the pandemic continued to take a toll.

But what wasn’t foreseen was the massive spike in COVID-19 cases among students. In the first week of the semester, UMass reported hundreds of cases — including two consecutive days with new cases totaling over 100, shattering the previous single-day record of 35 new cases. More than 350 students faced sanctions for COVID-19 violations.

In the weekend leading up to the semester, the Daily Collegian reported on crowded back-to-back parties hosted by Theta Chi, a fraternity at the school. Several sources within the Greek community, a healthcare worker at the school with knowledge of specific COVID-19 cases and video evidence proved the parties occurred. Shortly after the report, Theta Chi was placed on interim suspension pending an investigation.

UMass raised its operational posture from “Elevated” to “High,” the highest measure possible, due to the spike in cases. As a result, students on and off campus were ordered to self-sequester for two weeks. Students were barred from working their jobs, athletics were postponed and those living on campus were prohibited from going outside, even for a walk.

February 1

Greeno Sub Shop rallies with fundraiser to stay afloat

February 3

Opinion: Influencers: please stop wasting COVID tests

February 4

As the spring semester begins, students brace themselves for burnout

February 5

UMass shatters single-day case record

February 6

Good to be back’: Theta Chi hosts two crowded parties weekend after students return to campus, leading to COVID-19 cases

February 7

UMass COVID-19 risk level increase from ‘Elevated’ to ‘High’

UMass Athletics pauses all team activities for the next two weeks

February 8

Theta Chi placed on interim suspension pending investigation

Opinion: I hope your party was worth it

Opinion: Now is not the time for group projects

February 10

354 students are facing sanctions for conduct violations

February 11

SGA addresses COVID-19 restrictions and student employment during weekly meeting

SGA holds town hall to address concerns around COVID-19 spike

February 13

Restrictions on outdoor exercise lifted effective Saturday

February 15

Students working off-campus jobs grapple with UMass’ self-sequester directive

Letter: Dear UMass students, your actions impact the larger community

February 17

Graduate students moved from Southwest apartments with 24-hour notice to make space for quarantine housing

Opinion: UMass blames students for the outbreak, and students are buying it

February 18

Opinion: People with disabilities should be prioritized during vaccine distribution

February 19

Students react after Hadley Planet Fitness bars UMass students due to COVID-19 risk

Over the course of five days, the Daily Collegian published a three-part series titled “What Went Wrong,” an in-depth investigation into what led to the massive spike in COVID-19 cases at UMass. 

What Went Wrong: Part I — The Dorms

Part I explored the living conditions in UMass’ dorms that fueled the virus’ march through campus. Students blatantly ignored health guidelines and hosted dorm parties with more than two dozen unmasked people.

“Think of an absolutely normal time in Southwest — whether it’s the lowrises or the towers —and it’s dumbfounding how normal things are,” a University of Massachusetts resident assistant said.

What Went Wrong: Part II — The Contact Tracing

Part II analyzed the school’s failure to prepare for a spike in cases as the semester began. There were about 300 new cases in three days, overwhelming the school’s contact tracing system and causing UMass to seek the state’s assistance in contact tracing.

What Went Wrong Part III — The Quarantine

Part III was about issues with the quarantine living situation, in which students were able to continue their normal, social college lifestyle in dorms designated for students with COVID-19. 

“It’s honestly a mess in here,” one student said. “There’s just no rules.”

Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

Following the two week self-sequester period, the University implemented further restrictions in an attempt to prevent another outbreak. Students would be barred from online educational resources if they weren’t in compliance with testing standards, the school said, sparking backlash from professors.

During the self-sequester period, the Daily Collegian reported that Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa hosted parties, violating school policy. On the same day as the report, both fraternities were placed on interim suspension pending investigations.

UMass traditions continued a year after the pandemic began, with about 200 students facing discipline due to partying during the notorious Blarney Blowout celebration.

February 18

Opinion: Let UMass students work

February 19

UMass will lower campus risk level to ‘Elevated,’ with notable caveats

February 22

Letter: We, the Graduate Employee Organization, have no confidence in our administration

Opinion: America’s role in vaccine skepticism

A look at how the pandemic affected the UMass men’s lacrosse team

February 23

Opinion: UMass’ response to rising COVID-19 cases was a disaster that could have been avoided

February 24

Opinion: Restricting students’ access to virtual learning platforms is predatory and unfair

UMass students reveal why they decided to move out only weeks into the semester

February 25

UMass allows Theta Chi to recruit while under interim suspension, contradicting Code of Student Conduct

Letter: UMass needs to release air quality information for on-campus residences

February 26

‘It’s crazy in there’: Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa host gatherings during UMass’ self-sequester period

Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa placed on interim suspension following reports of gatherings during self-sequester period

February 27

UMass frontline employees worry about safety after students return to campus

March 1

UMass parents displeased by student activity restrictions

Opinion: As the latest school to surge in COVID-19 cases, UMass is just late to the party

March 4

UMass prepares for ‘Blarney Blowout’ weekend

March 8

Professors react to UMass’ new student testing compliance

Breaking: UMass to pursue action against Blarney party of 200

March 10

Two-week self-sequester period leaves students with in-person classes lacking hands on experiences

March 12

Opinion: Blame neoliberalism for COVID-19

Opinion: The COVID-19 vaccine must not result in further inequality

March 13

UMass community reflects on a year of COVID-19

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