‘Super-spreader’ event led to N.J. college’s COVID-19 outbreak, president says

An off-campus “super-spreader event” is responsible for the overwhelming majority of recent COVID-19 cases at Monmouth University, which reported a dramatic rise in new cases over the past two weeks, officials said.

Monmouth had reported a total of 39 confirmed cases as of Sept. 25. Since then, the number has ballooned to 291 cases, including 166 people who tested positive and are still in isolation, president Patrick Leahy wrote Friday in a letter to students.

In addition to the confirmed cases, 206 students at the private college were identified through contract tracing as being at high risk for contracting the virus. They are required to quarantine as a precaution, Leahy wrote.

“It appears that this increase in cases among students was tied to an off-campus event hosted two weeks ago,” Leahy wrote. “Moving forward, we will need 100% cooperation from our campus community in order to resume our fall semester as planned.”

Leahy’s letter provided no further details about the event or the specific number of cases that were tied to it. But Monmouth’s struggle to contain the virus’ spread underscores the logistical challenges that colleges face in relying on students to follow safety protocols when they’re not on campus.

Monmouth opened the semester with the majority of its courses online, but allowed indoor dining on campus, where students also had access to the gymnasium and pool. It temporarily shut down those facilities at the end of September and announced it would postpone sporting events through at least Wednesday.

The university also began offering free virus testing for all students and staff with no appointments needed.

Leahy hopes to make a decision soon on whether to reopen facilities and resume athletics and club activities, he wrote.

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Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com

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