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Colleges Go On Alert As Maine COVID-19 Cases Spike

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
The Bowdoin College campus is nearly empty during spring break, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Brunswick, Maine.

Colleges in Maine are increasing testing and seeking to limit student travel as COVID-19 case numbers have surged in the state in recent days.

Waterville’s Colby College announced earlier this week that, as daily cases have reached triple digits across Maine, the school is moving its health code level to “yellow,” meaning that some limitations will be placed on dining halls, athletic facilities and lab classes. Colby is also asking students to “consider limiting travel beyond the Waterville area that is not necessary.”

Similar steps are being taken at Lewiston’s Bates College, where five students and one employee have tested positive for the virus in recent weeks.

In a letter to the campus community, Bates Vice President for Campus Life Joshua McIntosh said that the cases are worrisome, particularly as the virus has begun to surge in the state as a whole. McIntosh encouraged students to remain on-campus until Thanksgiving break, and for off-campus students to limit travel to and from the school.

For the new cases detected on campus, “there also does not appear to be a common source of infection,” McIntosh said. “These unrelated cases suggest that as Maine cases increase, so does our students’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 through off-campus activities. This is cause for deepening concern.”

Meanwhile, both the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Presque Isle moved to remote learning on Friday after detecting COVID-19 on both campuses. In a letter to the community, USM President Glenn Cummings said that, out of caution, the school was asking residential students to stay on campus in Gorham throughout the weekend, and planned to test essential staff members.

“By holding today into a remote pattern, it assures that we will, at least, minimize the amount of interaction that we might have of multiplying the disease,” Cummings says.

Waterville’s Thomas College so far hasn’t detected any cases of COVID-19 on its campus, but announced on Tuesday that it would begin testing students every week in an effort to detect cases earlier.

“The very best we can do is prepare ourselves, if the virus comes, to act quickly, isolate, mitigate, and go on delivering our education in the most powerful way possible,” said Thomas College President Laurie Lachance.

Colleges in Maine have reported generally low rates of COVID-19. Colby, Bates and Bowdoin Colleges have been testing every student multiple times per week.