Entering this academic year, everyone in the University of Maine System knew there would be challenges to face. Whether these challenges take the form of online learning, convincing thousands of college kids not to congregate or party, or simply keeping “Buff Chick Wednesdays” alive, everyone knew this wasn’t going to be easy. One of the biggest challenges the UMaine community has faced is the implementation of COVID-19 testing. The University of Maine System recently completed the first two phases of asymptomatic screening and testing, testing 14,712 people. According to NewsCenterMaine, testing yielded 13 positive cases that are no longer active, leaving the entire University of Maine System free of COVID-19, at least for now. With the third phase of testing now underway, the UMaine community is hoping to keep it that way.
Phase 3 of testing began on Sept. 14, with 2,000 students set to be tested every 10 days. Tests will be held at the Alfond Sports Arena, through a continuing partnership with ConvenientMD and Jackson Laboratory. Both students and faculty will receive an email with a date and time to be tested. This process will continue up until Thanksgiving break, when all on campus students will return home and remain there until the start of the spring semester. Phase 3 will also include symptom tracking and wastewater testing, which seeks to track levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in community wastewater. Wastewater testing can help to illuminate community conditions, and could potentially indicate if there is an increase in COVID carriers in the community.
“The University of Maine System will also be conducting further monitoring for the disease following the completion of initial baseline screening at the start of the semester to trace and isolate cases of infection. Monitoring will include additional COVID-19 testing surveillance and symptom tracking. Wastewater testing will also be used to monitor public health conditions on campuses that are home to 78% of the System’s resident hall student population. Campuses with the infrastructure necessary to support wastewater testing include UMaine, UMFK, and USM,” the UMaine “For Everyone” webpage states.
While there are no known cases of COVID-19 in the University of Maine System, according to News Center Maine the university has been made aware of a recent outbreak of the virus in York County and is taking the proper precautions. The University of Maine System has ensured the community that they are taking the proper steps to deal with the recent outbreak.
“The temporary steps will include additional asymptomatic screening focused on select University facilities, enhanced outreach, support, and safety measures, and messaging for students and employees throughout Southern Maine. The University will also be emphasizing the use of communication and support protocols established to assist community members impacted by the pandemic,” News Center Maine reports.
As the community continues to learn how to adapt to and overcome the pandemic, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy offered words of encouragement to the community in the Sept. 11 Friday Futurecast.
“I want to echo that same gratitude and expand it to the thousands of faculty, staff and community members who also have played important roles in keeping people safe,” President Ferrini-Mundy noted.
Keeping people safe is most important, but the university has had to continuously consider the logistics of maintaining campus life. The university has taken on an immense challenge with its goal to test 2,000 people every 10 days. With factors like the recent scaling back of restrictions at the New Balance Recreation and Fitness Center which modestly relaxes social distancing guidelines, it is yet to be determined whether a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases will be detected on campus. The capacity in the Recreation Center was recently increased to 120 according to the Friday Futurecast email sent out on Sept. 11.
“New Balance Recreation and Fitness Center entered phase two of reopening, which will increase capacity to 120 users and eliminate the need for a reservation system. All health and safety protocols remain in place. Fifteen virtual fitness classes are offered each week,” the Sept. 11 Friday Futurecast stated.
As the entire University of Maine System community continues to deal with the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is currently unclear how phase 3 will play out. Clubs, organizations, students, staff and faculty will have to continue to adapt and overcome the challenges to campus life as everyone strives to carry on in a safe manner.