Flagg Apartments at MCLA

A view of the Flagg Apartments complex at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

NORTH ADAMS — An outbreak of COVID-19 cases linked to campus socializing led the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to restrict 242 students to their residences, starting Wednesday night, and to suspend all athletics.

“This is a very serious situation,” Gina Puc, a college vice president, said in a message to the campus late Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Puc had informed the school community that eight cases have been confirmed in the Flagg Townhouse Apartment Complex in the last 10 days. Puc said at the time that MCLA planned to test all residents of the complex Wednesday and would step up the current schedule of testing.

Just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, with those test results in, Puc said that 13 cases have been confirmed, evidence of a cluster that warranted a “stay-in-place” order. As of Wednesday, 5 percent of all residents in the complex have been infected. That percentage triggered further action, Puc said in her message, based on the school’s “COVID-19 control plan” and advice from public health officials.

In-person classes will continue to be held, with students on lockdown attending virtually, Puc said.

“We are approaching this cluster with the utmost caution and are taking proactive measures to keep our entire campus community safe,” she said in Wednesday’s message. “These precautionary measures will allow us to progress through the remaining six weeks of the semester in residence and in our hybrid learning format.”

Puc said that the outbreak is not related to in-person learning on campus. Instead, Puc said campus officials believe the virus has been transmitted by “close, social contact in settings where masking, social distance, and other CDC mitigation measures are not being followed consistently.”

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Those affected by the lockdown can leave their residences only to pick up food from the dining program, get medical help or undergo COVID-19 testing.

Students who violate the “stay-in-place” order “will be held accountable … to the fullest extent,” Puc said.

“This case cluster is a stark reminder that this pandemic is still very real, and that we need to be unwavering in our commitment to common-sense public health guidance and the requirements of the Trailblazer Agreement,” Puc said.

Bernadette Alden, the MCLA spokesperson, said the increase in cases was identified through on-campus testing conducted by the Broad Institute. “We are confident that we have successfully identified and taken the necessary steps to isolate students who have tested positive for coronavirus and have notified and quarantined all close contacts,” she said in an email in response to questions.

Symptomatic students are receiving care, Alden said.

The latest cases are not reflected in the college’s most recent online dashboard. Puc said in an email to The Eagle that is because the dashboard is updated weekly.

Alden said that MCLA expects students to observe precautions against infection. “We adhere by all CDC and state guidelines that pertain to gatherings,” she said. Officials did not say whether students have faced disciplinary action for violating those guidelines.

On Tuesday, the school had put the men’s lacrosse and soccer teams on hiatus. That expanded Wednesday to all campus athletics.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.