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COVID-19 Tests Planned For Thousands Of Students Heading Back To Maine College Campuses In The Fall

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

Maine colleges and universities are announcing their plans for the fall as COVID-19 continues to alter campus life and instruction.

University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy announced Tuesday that the system has partnered with Bar Harbor-based Jackson Lab and the health care provider ConvenientMD to test thousands students on all seven of its campuses.

Malloy says the initial agreement will allow the system to screen tens of thousands of students — mostly from out-of-state — as they return to campus, though some in-state students, like those in athletics, could also be tested.

“So there will be different requirements for different audiences of people as we stand up the institution,” Malloy says. “But we also want to make that testing available to staff and faculty, whenever that’s appropriate.”

Malloy says the system will also encourage students to get tested shortly before they arrive, so they won’t need to quarantine while waiting for test results.

ConvenientMD President Mark Pundt says the company is also planning to work with the university system to train allied health and science majors to administer the tests.

“So not only will they be learning from the science that goes into this, and the assessment of the results,” Pundt says, “but they will actually be participating in the process, as we train them to properly obtain the samples and get them to the lab.”

Other colleges in Maine, including Colby, have said they’re also planning to extensively test students as they return to campus.

Colby College President David Greene says school officials have in-depth plans to safely bring the campus community back to Waterville and also protect the broader community. He says in addition to required face coverings, social distancing, limited visits to campus and travel restrictions for faculty, staff and students, Colby will test people several days before they come back to campus and retest them three times during each of their first and second weeks.

“Every week thereafter we will test them at least twice. We’re going to do 85,000 tests in the first semester alone, which is pretty close to what the entire state has done for over 1.3 million people since the beginning of this pandemic, and we’re going to do that our population of only 3,000 over the fall semester,” he says.

Greene says that, by testing at least twice a week, the school can identify those who might be infected but are not yet contagious.

“Then you can isolate them and they don’t spread the disease. And that’s the really critical part of all this, and every model has shown that when you’re testing with the kind of regularity we are testing you should be able to keep any spread of the virus to an absolute minimum,” he says.

The school has leased additional housing for quarantining and isolating students.

Greene says students who can’t return to campus or would feel uncomfortable doing so will be able to take courses remotely or take a leave of absence.

Bates has announced that it’s inviting all students back to campus, with classes starting Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Bates President Clayton Spencer says the decision recognizes that the pandemic could easily be a multiyear problem, and relies on a plan that’s designed to keep students and staff safe.

“It involves a very sophisticated testing regime. It involves social distancing, a universal masking policy and adherence to the best advice of public health experts,” she says.

Spencer says students who can’t or don’t want to return to campus will be able to take courses remotely. Students will also be able to take a gap year or a leave of absence.

Husson College is also planning to resume in-person classes in the fall. Last week, Bowdoin College in Brunswick announced it’s only bringing certain students back to campus this fall with most taking courses online. And Unity College is planning to continue with remote learning for the next academic year.

The University of Maine System says it will announce more plans for the fall later this week.

Ed is a Maine native who spent his early childhood in Livermore Falls before moving to Farmington. He graduated from Mount Blue High School in 1970 before going to the University of Maine at Orono where he received his BA in speech in 1974 with a broadcast concentration. It was during that time that he first became involved with public broadcasting. He served as an intern for what was then called MPBN TV and also did volunteer work for MPBN Radio.