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Back in Black Bear Nation: How the return to campus looks for Spring 2021

With the spring semester underway at the University of Maine, those returning to campus may notice a few changes to the COVID-19 testing process. With more classes being held in person UMaine has put into place some new precautions to ensure the safety of its students.

In the fall semester, COVID-19 tests were administered in several phases, consisting of randomized groups of on-campus residents and out-of-state students with at least one in-person class or work on campus. This semester, the university is ramping up testing and administering tests on a weekly basis to all on-campus residents and students who come to campus for a class or work.

These tests, developed by Shield T3 at the University of Illinois are quite a bit different than the tests students may be used to taking. These new non-invasive saliva-based PCR tests will be conducted starting Feb. 1. The university plans to administer around 16,000 tests a week, free of charge to students with in-person classes or residential students. These tests will yield results within 24 hours of being administered, thanks in part to Shield T3’s on-campus testing facility. The facility  eliminates the need for samples to be shipped out of state for testing. The Shield T3 test also has a low limit of detection and a 99% specificity, making it more accurate compared to the typical nasal swab tests.

In a press release, University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy attributes the ability for UMaine to continue to hold in-person classes to the combined efforts of the community.

“The public health commitment and leadership of our students, faculty and staff got us through the fall semester together,” Malloy stated. “Thanks to additional resources authorized by Governor Mills, we will be able to test and report results promptly every week for every UMS community member who has in-person, on-campus experiences — a testing schedule that we believe is critical to maintaining our academic operations through the current state of the pandemic.”

Samuel Cote, a third-year kinesiology, physical education and coaching student shares how he feels about the return to campus process.

“It’s good to keep testing to stay a step ahead,” Cote said when asked about the new weekly testing process “I think that the tests are a good idea with the rising number of cases in Maine.”

Cote explained that it took about five days for him to get the results back from his first test.

“UMaine is doing a good job telling us when to get tested, but the turnaround on the results has been somewhat delayed,” Cote said.

Cote is grateful that the new Shield T3 testing process promises results within 24 hours rather than a few days. Cote finds comfort in knowing that the university is ramping up testing.

“The university is doing a good job of trying to get things back to normal which I think is possible because of the increased testing,” Cote said.

Despite the lack of normality in this situation, it is meaningful to him and many other students that the university continues to look out for the safety and well-being of residential students.

Phase six of the UMaine COVID-19 testing process will begin the week of Feb. 1. Tests will be administered to residential students free of charge at the Wells Conference Center. Eligible students must register weekly and keep up-to-date with their assigned testing times.


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