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Pikesville rabbinical college reports more than 50 students tested positive for coronavirus and ‘many more have been exposed'

More than 50 students have tested positive for coronavirus at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville, and the school expects “this number to climb,” according to a campus-wide email.

“As of tonight over 50 of our Talmidim [the Hebrew word for “disciple”] have tested positive for Covid-19, and many more have been exposed,” read the email, which was sent Saturday.

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Baltimore County Department of Health spokeswoman Elyn Garrett-Jones said the county was monitoring the outbreak but would not say how many students, faculty or staff at the school have tested positive for the virus, or if contact tracing indicates whether the spread was linked to any one event.

The college, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish educational institution for undergraduate, graduate and high school students centered on the study of religious texts, closed Friday for an already scheduled holiday running until Oct. 15 and encompassing the observance of Yom Kippur on Monday.

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Before opening in August, the college had asked that students living on campus not leave the grounds during the course of the semester to prevent bringing in the coronavirus, according to a letter posted in August to the college’s website.

College officials said in that letter they would try to separate students living on campus from those who commute. The school has kept residence halls open for on-campus living, grouping up to four students in a unit “because of limited space and high enrollment,” according to a school dorm request form.

A college representative did not respond to questions Tuesday about current enrollment numbers — last year the school had about 300 students — coronavirus test results, how the school plans to reopen or whether the school had put any restrictions on class sizes, living arrangements or mask-wearing. The college was closed Monday in observance of Yom Kippur.

Many undergraduate and high school students live on campus, where in-person classes commenced in late August. Students were required to provide a negative coronavirus test before arriving on the campus.

Students were tested for the coronavirus again after living on campus for one week; in an email to students and staff sent Wednesday, Sept. 23, the school canceled the following day’s classes after learning of positive coronavirus cases, but did not disclose how many.

Saturday’s email said at least 30 other students had been exposed to those who tested positive. The school moved those who had been exposed to an isolated residence hall and barred students living off-campus from returning.

School officials said in the email that they tested the remaining students and staff Friday. As of Tuesday, the school had not yet sent an email updating the campus about any additional positive cases.

In the 21208 ZIP code where the college is located, the state health department has confirmed 834 coronavirus cases since it began publishing the statistics nine months ago, according to state data published on the county’s online coronavirus dashboard.

The ZIP code is among those with the highest concentration of cases in Baltimore County. The 21222 ZIP code in Dundalk, with 1,367 cases; the 21228 ZIP code in Catonsville, with 1,167 cases; and the 21117 ZIP code in Owings Mills, with 1,201 total confirmed cases, have reported the highest numbers of positive tests during the pandemic.

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