With a new semester and the ever-present threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Maine has laid out steps for the spring semester to provide students with a healthy environment to continue learning.
“There isn’t going to be a later, and we need to be a university now,” Emily Haddad said, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UMaine, referencing the university’s decision to stay open and in-person despite the rising numbers of Omicron cases plaguing the nation. In an effort to be open and communicative with students, President Joan Ferrini-Mundy has begun sending out a series of weekly emails titled “UMaine Now,” to provide updates about the ever-changing pandemic, including resources to help students stay healthy.
The symptoms of Omicron, a variant of COVID-19 can appear anywhere from two to 14 days following exposure. The symptoms are most commonly described as similar to a cold or flu, typically including a runny nose, headache, sore throat and sometimes nausea. A fever is also commonly associated with the Omicron variant, but depending on one’s reaction to the virus, a fever might not be present. The university urges students and faculty who are feeling ill to quickly get tested in order to reduce the potential spread of infection.
Starting last semester, UMaine required all students be fully vaccinated if attending classes in-person, unless they had the proper exemptions. These exempted students were not expected to, but welcome to, participate in voluntary, weekly asymptomatic testing. Starting on Feb. 1, all students who have not received their COVID-19 booster shot are required to participate in this weekly testing. In an effort to make vaccinations more accessible to students, the university has been sponsoring vaccine clinics run by Northern Light Pharmacy, and hopes to continue offering these clinics throughout the semester. Another important part of tracking the spread of the illness across the campus has been wastewater testing, which will continue in the upcoming semester.
Asymptomatic testing is available in Estabrooke Hall by appointment every weekday. The mask mandate is still in effect on campus, requiring all students, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in every building, unless actively eating. The university also highly recommends that students abide by the social distancing guidelines provided by the CDC whenever possible.
So what happens if you test positive for COVID-19 or one of its variants? In line with current guidelines detailed by the CDC, the university requires students and faculty who have tested positive to self-quarantine off campus for five days, even if they are asymptomatic. After those five days, if your symptoms have disappeared fully, then you can return to campus, but for the next 10 days, you must have your mask on at all times. Everyone who tests positive is required to fill out a self-report form, which can be found at https://umaine.edu/return/covid-19-self-reporting-form/. This provides the university with the best chance of tracing outbreaks before they occur.
Despite these efforts, some students still feel UMaine has a long way to go to ensure students are learning in the best environment possible.
“For residential students like me, it isn’t easy to find accommodations off campus, so I wish they had more spaces on campus where they can quarantine people,” said Anna Passamba a fourth-year zoology student, who is currently living on campus. “I feel like the majority of my professors are enforcing [the guidelines] pretty well… but I think not allowing professors to have Zoom lectures is irresponsible,” said Maranie Medina a fourth-year, who is worried about students who test positive missing five days of their classes. In a fast paced-learning environment like UMaine, missing a week of classes can be detrimental to some students’ educations.
Other students are worried about the enforcement of mask mandates and other important guidelines.
“I wear my mask indoors, but I’ve never experienced anyone enforcing that,” Haley Connor a third-year theater student said, questioning whether or not people who have tested positive are really being required to wear their masks for the full 10 day period. “We get emails, but I don’t really know if people read them. I also remember when we were having required testing, I missed a test and they never questioned it or tracked me down,” the Connor continued. Students are worried about how issues like this are being enforced, if they are at all. “I feel my safety is in my own hands,” the student said.
For more information regarding UMaine’s updated COVID-19 guidelines and requirements please visit: https://umaine.edu/return/recent-updates/. And for more information surrounding the Omicron variant, as well as other variants of COVID-19 please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html.