Monmouth U. students tied to COVID-19 super-spreader event not cooperating: Where was the party?

Joe Strupp
Asbury Park Press

WEST LONG BRANCH – Monmouth University students who were involved in an off-campus party blamed for spreading the coronavirus to an estimated 125 students are not cooperating with investigators who have yet to find out where the party was held.

Monmouth County health officials who are investigating the event said they have reached out to students through contact tracing, but none will disclose where the party occurred or who organized it.

“We have not been able to get any of the participants or contacts to let us know where that occurred,” said Dave Henry, health officer of the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission, which oversees 18 Monmouth County municipalities. “We are running into the same situations in regard to the contacts for positive individuals who might know where the event had been.”

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Monmouth University.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on whether students were cooperating with the investigation or if they knew the location of the off-campus party.

Monmouth University President Patrick Leahy revealed in a Friday letter that the off-campus gathering occurred in recent weeks, but had no location or exact date.

The letter cited the event as a chief reason for an increase in positive cases that has reached 319 since Aug. 24, with 96 still active and more than 200 students still isolating in their homes or dormitory rooms because of  infection or being deemed at-risk for being near an infected person.

That's far more than the Jersey Shore's other college campuses that released tallies, with Georgian Court University reporting 17 cases since July, Brookdale Community College reporting five cases and Ocean County College none.

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Monmouth University officials said at least 125 cases among its students have been traced to the party but had no further details on how many students attended.

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The off-campus gathering has drawn health department interest. Organizers could face legal trouble if the gathering is found to have violated Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order barring large indoor gatherings and other COVID-19 restrictions.

“Any of the executive order violations go to the police department,” Henry said. “We don’t even know which town it was in. Nobody has divulged that information, or we would have passed that on to the police department.”

West Long Branch Police said they had no reports of large parties in recent weeks.

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University officials also have said the party could have violated the student code of conduct, which was updated this year to include violations of the executive order as grounds for suspension or being barred from campus.

Campus housing officials, meanwhile, have been forced to move some students from dormitory to dormitory so that infected and at-risk students are not in the same areas with uninfected students.

Jim Pillar, associate vice president for student life, said the moves have been taking place regularly for about the past month on an almost daily basis. He said the relocations are needed when new infections occur and previously infected students are deemed safe again.

“We’ve dedicated spaces on campus for students who have tested positive.  All of the spaces we use have the capability of being independent from other locations,” Pillar said. “Separate air vents, shower and bathroom facility.”

He said 32 students who have not tested positive were recently relocated from Willow Hall to other sites so that Willow Hall could be used to house infected students exclusively. It had just four infected students as of Tuesday, but can hold 133.

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Three other on-campus housing sites — Cedar West, Beechwood Hall and University Bluffs Apartments — also were set aside for students who are either isolated for testing positive or deemed at-risk due to exposure to an infected person or for traveling to another state that is considered at risk.

In some cases, the entire building is not limited to these students, with areas set aside that have separate entrances and common areas.

“We had to make sure we had an ample number of beds for those that perhaps become COVID positive and we did offer every one of those students the option that we would move them to their new assignment,” Pillar said. “It’s a contingency, to make sure that we’re prepared to serve the overall community.”

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Some 1,200 students are living in on-campus housing this semester, according to officials, down from the usual 1,800.

As of Tuesday, 64 students in student housing were either isolating or quarantined.

Isolating students have either tested positive or are awaiting test results because they have shown COV-19 symptoms. They must remain in their rooms with outside contact only for food and medication for 10 days.

Quarantined students are those who are deemed at risk because they were in contact with infected people or traveled to another state on the list of at-risk locations. They must remain in their rooms except for travel to get food and medication for 14 days.

“We are monitoring the situation seven days a week,” Pillar said. “It’s been manageable, the fortunate thing is that it’s a multi-department effort. Everybody is working together.”

He said that few of the students living on campus have chosen to return home to undergo their isolation: “The vast majority of our students isolate with us.”

University spokeswoman Tara Peters added, “We have encouraged them to do their isolation at home and in a lot of cases their families do not want them to come home, they want them to do their isolation at Monmouth.”

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience who covers education and Monmouth County for and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of two books, including "Killing Journalism" on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers and Fairleigh Dickinson universities. Reach him at and at 732-413-3840. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp