On the same day that three students at the University of Maine in Orono have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the university system also announced repercussions for students who violate the state's size limit for gatherings.
Though the newly confirmed cases are not linked to a large gathering, school officials says they want to encourage safe behavior. Some local towns are also considering enacting measures to promote safety.
Students start arriving on the University of Maine campuses in earnest next week. And that is one of the reasons why, says University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, school officials issued guidance on large gatherings.
"This is a different kind of start. And so when it might be traditional to have larger gatherings and get together and see friends, we really are asking our students to do this within all guidance and safely."
Ferrini-Mundy says that students who host or attend gatherings that violate state guidelines — which currently cap crowd sizes to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors — could face suspension or dismissal. The guidance comes on top of other University protocols intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including ongoing testing of students and staff and wastewater testing.
"But this piece is really important,” Ferrini-Mundy says. “The behavior of our community and our students, in particular, is vital to doing all that we're able to do to prevent outbreaks."
The town of Orono is also considering enacting an ordinance to encourage safe behavior. The proposal would subject individuals who fail to wear face coverings in businesses and some public settings to fines ranging from $100-$500. It would also require owners of residential housing to create and enforce safety protocols or face a $1,000 a day fine.
Orono town council chair Cynthia Mehnert says the proposal, which will be voted on next week, is in response to concerns that the town's population will nearly double when students return.
"We're not necessarily targeting students,” Mehnert says. “We just believe that with the influx of students and more faculty, and, just such a large influx of individuals, we wanted to make sure we had taken every precaution we could."
"Of course there's a much higher risk with so many students around," says incoming senior Chase Flaherty.
Flaherty says that both Orono's proposal and the University's policy on large gatherings are understandable.
"They're not saying that they're going to be expelling students. I do think that they're just saying we're going to be holding students accountable that make bad decisions."
As the vice president for student entertainment, Flaherty says he is adjusting the kinds of activities he hopes to offer. Movie nights are usually a bust, he says, but he suspects this year drive-in movies will have added allure. Flaherty also notes that his fraternity has made changes, including banning guests.
It's difficult being a college student right now, he says, but it's just the way it has to be.