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Maine Colleges Take Steps To Protect Students From Exposure To Coronavirus

Linda Coan O'Kresik
Bangor Daily News/file
University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy discusses a proposed unified accreditation system in September, 2019.

The University of Maine has announced that it’s withdrawing 14 students from study abroad programs in Italy over continuing concerns about COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The precaution is one of many steps that the University of Maine System and colleges statewide say they’ve started to take to limit exposure and protect student health.

Several colleges have already been forced to cancel study abroad and international class trips to countries with heightened risk of outbreak. Bates College in Lewiston suspended a program in Italy that three of its students were attending. Faculty are working to ensure students can still complete coursework in the United States.

“Bates [Center for Global Education] staff are working closely with these students, and will do so with other students should more programs be suspended,” officials wrote in a letter posted last week to the college’s website.

At University of Maine system campuses, administrators say they’re also “tracking university travel through countries subject to heightened alerts,” with official university travel prohibited to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy says the system could restrict travel to even more countries based on future travel advisories and recommendations from federal agencies like the CDC and the State Department.

“There is this monitoring that needs to take place, almost on an hourly basis,” he says. “And we are in communications with CDC here in Maine, as well as our federal authorities, as well.”

Colleges have also begun planning to assist international students who may be unable to return to their home countries due to travel restrictions. In a letter on its website, Bowdoin College in Brunswick says that those students “may stay on campus for the entire duration of spring break,” with meals provided.

And the University of Maine System says administrators are updating plans and working with faculty to make sure courses can continue, likely online, if campuses are forced to close.

“It may mean that assignments change. And readings change. And even testing changes. But we’re smart enough and nimble enough to make sure that people are not losing as a result of circumstances well beyond their control,” Malloy says. “That their health is being protected, and that their education is being protected.”

Federal authorities have confirmed at least 80 cases of coronavirus in the United States, with none in Maine. Several colleges are encouraging basic prevention measures recommended by the CDC, including washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and staying home when you’re sick.