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COVID-19 alters UMaine’s back-to-school routine

Things are looking different in Orono as fall classes resumed at the University of Maine on Aug. 31. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many classes have been moved to an online format, offered either synchronously or asynchronously, or in a hybrid format that allows students to alternate the days they participate in a typical classroom setting. President Joan Ferrini-Mundy reports that only “41% of undergraduate class sessions are being offered in-person” in order to adhere to local, state and federal guidelines surrounding social distancing and safety related to COVID-19. 

President Ferrini-Mundy sends out a weekly newsletter titled “Friday Futurecast” which includes reports on what the university is doing to keep students and staff safe, as well as updates on the number of coronavirus cases detected within the University of Maine System As of Sept. 2, there are 13 known cases of COVID-19, 10 of which are at UMaine, one at the University of Maine at Farmington and two at the University of Southern Maine. By Sept. 2,  phases one and two of the asymptomatic testing have yielded eight positive test results out of the 7,543 tests given. Jackson Lab and Convenient MD have partnered with the University of Maine System to make tests accessible for students. Students can check their results in a secure portal and will be contacted by the Maine CDC if they test positive for COVID-19.  

Currently, only students who are living on campus or are from out-of-state and live off campus in the Orono area are being tested. Currently, there is no set date on when the university will begin testing students who are Maine residents who live off-campus. Any student who lives on campus and tests positive will be quarantined for two weeks in Knox Hall, and any off-campus student is asked to quarantine in their private residence. Students who are sick should not go to class or go anywhere on campus aside from the room they are being asked to quarantine in. 

Alongside UMaine, the town of Orono is also taking precautionary measures to keep its residents safe. Due to the influx of people moving back to Orono for school, the town passed emergency legislation requiring residents to wear masks everywhere outside their home. Residents will be fined if they do not comply. The Orono Police Department will carry masks to hand out to those who do not wear one. UMaine is also requiring everyone on campus to wear masks, and they have banned inefficient face coverings such as face shields and neck gaiters. To promote wearing masks, the  Black Bear statue at the end of the university mall now wears a mask, and a picture of UMaine mascot, Bananas, wearing a mask is posted next to the UMaine Police Department. On campus, signs remind people to wear masks and stations provide masks and hand sanitizer. Lastly, the bookstore sells reusable masks along with hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. 

While clubs and student organizations are required to adhere to social distancing procedures if they must hold an event, they are strongly encouraged to go online. All members of a student organization must fill out the COVID-19 acknowledgment form which outlines safety protocols. University of Maine Student Government will not fund any events until all members of the student organization or club have submitted their forms. 

    Although running clubs and organizations remotely is important to keep everyone safe, doing so does change the atmosphere of certain clubs and affects how they’re run. UMaine’s chapter of HerCampus, an online magazine targeted at the female college student demographic, has moved completely online. Executive Board Member Quinn Galletta has found that “COVID has made a lot of things harder [for the club].” Although articles have always been written and published online, the chapter previously met once a week for bonding events and to discuss article topics.

“I miss seeing the HerCampus members so much,” Galleta said. “Going to our Tuesday evening meetings last year was the best part of my week… and I loved connecting that way.” 

The club is also trying to increase its social media presence in order to get new students to join who may not know about the club. Galleta remarked that “the biggest thing we are trying to do remotely is to create things we can all do together while we are apart.” Thankfully, student organizations and clubs like HerCampus do provide an outlet for students during these stressful times. Even though going online is not ideal it still provides a wonderful reprieve from classes and a space to relax. It will be a challenging year for student organizations to recruit new members and plan events, but thankfully technology can help bring people together even when they are miles apart. 

Attending university during a global pandemic is not easy, but hopefully with safety precautions in place and available mandatory asymptomatic testing, UMaine will be able to have a successful fall semester and contain the number of COVID-19 cases. Aside from removing spring break and delaying the start of the spring semester by a week, UMaine has not yet released plans for the spring semester.


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