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UMaine announces normal return to campus for fall amid rising COVID-19 cases


Amid rising COVID-19 cases, the University of Maine announced that many classes will resume in person starting in the fall 2021 semester. On March 10, Chancellor Dannel P. Malloy sent an email to the UMaine community stating that everything will resume as normal in the fall 2021 semester. 


“I’m happy to let you know that we are announcing later this morning that we expect to welcome our students, faculty and staff back to our university campuses this fall to safely resume the most traditional in-person college experiences we all took for granted before the pandemic” Malloy wrote in the email. 


Malloy stated that because of the increased availability of vaccines and the push to relax COVID-19 safety measures by the start of next semester, there is reason to believe that everything on campus could function as normal in the fall. The warmer weather in the spring and summer will also allow for more outdoor activities and less congregation of people indoors in spaces like restaurants, which will provide outdoor seating in the summer months. 


Malloy did stress that safety is always the top priority and shared that wearing face masks and maintaining a social distance of six feet will be key to keeping the UMaine campus on the right track. Although there were mentions of testing every UMaine community member who is eligible through graduation, nothing was said about testing students who are returning in the fall. It is unclear if it will be done or who would qualify for potential testing. 


With Gov. Janet Mills’ recent acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccine timeline, people are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic. All Maine residents ages 16 and older are eligible for vaccination beginning April 19. If students can get vaccinated over the course of this semester and the summer, the UMaine community hopes to be more protected from COVID-19 concerns in the fall. 


However, in the past week the UMaine administration has taken a stricter and less hopeful approach to the situation regarding the pandemic. Vice President for Student Life and Inclusive Excellence and Dean of Students Robert Dana and President Joan Ferrini-Mundy shared a message to the UMaine community on March 15.


“While our spirits lift, it’s important that we remain vigilant of the health and safety guidance that has successfully gotten us to this point. We are still in a pandemic. And we have only eight weeks to go to finish this semester, which we would like to do by continuing the in-person and campus-based instruction and activity we have been able to do this semester,” Dana and Ferrini-Fundy wrote.


Although a number of new COVID-19 cases have stemmed from college-age individuals in the state of Maine, the University of Maine System has reported 74 active cases of COVID-19 in the entire system as of March 19. These numbers are certainly not ideal, but with the rise of vaccine availability and the community taking proper precautions, an in-person fall 2021 semester is still on the table. 


On par with relaxing restrictions and resuming normalcy, the UMaine administration allowed sports like baseball and softball to resume, as well as pushed the football season to this spring. However, seven members from the baseball team are now in quarantine due to exposure to a COVID-19 positive person within the program. As a result, the team had to cancel its weekend baseball games against Stony Brook University. It is unclear if other games will go on as planned, and the baseball team, like all other sports teams, is being tested for COVID-19 twice a week. 


“Our student athletes have modeled safe practices this year and we are proud of what they have accomplished in competition and in the effort to limit the spread of infection,” Ferrini-Mundy shared in a press release sent on March 19. 


It appears that the last eight weeks of the spring semester are crucial to defining the trajectory of the university next fall. With the reading days and a mini-break fast approaching, students are encouraged to make safe choices in the coming days. University staff and students alike must stay vigilant with COVID-19 protocol even as the weather gets warmer and more vaccines are available. 

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