UMassAmherst

University of Massachusetts Amherst is planning to invite roughly 60 percent of its campus population back to school for the spring semester.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to expand its campus population in the spring, announcing Friday that first-year and transfer students will be invited to campus next semester after learning remotely throughout the fall.

Other undergraduate students who depend on the university for housing and dining, including international students, those taking mandatory in-person courses, and those participating in athletics or who require academic accommodations will also be eligible for on-campus housing. Those groups represent about 60 percent of the typical campus residential population, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in a Friday message to the campus community. He said students who decline the option to live on campus will be able to continue with remote learning, and that the school is “also exploring alternative residential options beyond the Amherst area, including increasing the housing capacity on the Mount Ida Campus in Newton.”

“While I am pleased that a larger percentage of our students will be afforded the opportunity to return to campus and take part in the immersive residential experience, my heart goes out to students to whom we are not able to extend this invitation,” Subbaswamy wrote. “Put simply, given the nature of the pandemic, the campus cannot operate at full capacity and adequately provide the virus testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and quarantine and isolation measures necessary while the pandemic continues.”

For the fall semester, the flagship UMass campus granted dorm access only to students who were taking “essential face-to-face classes,” and conducted regular testing for students living both on-campus and off-campus in the area. UMass Amherst has conducted a total of 103,000 tests and identified 153 COVID-19 cases, according to its testing dashboard, for a cumulative positivity rate of 0.15 percent. One of those positive cases was an on-campus student, and, of the other 152, 144 were off-campus students, six were off-campus staff, and two were off-campus faculty, according to the school. In his message, Subbaswamy said the confidence of UMass Amherst officials “is bolstered in part due to the success of our campus symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and contact tracing program.”

Reopening decisions are made by individual campuses in the UMass system. At UMass Boston, a spring planning committee held virtual listening sessions this week, and Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco has said it’s likely that UMB will “continue largely in remote modality for the spring semester.”

Meanwhile, K-12 education officials reported more than 200 COVID-19 cases among public school students and staff in the past week, and confirmed cases among the 0-19 age group are higher than they’ve been at any previous point in the pandemic.