The University of Maine System will require all on-campus students and staff to be tested weekly for COVID-19 during the spring semester as parts of its efforts to prevent or contain new outbreaks.
Chancellor Dannel Malloy announced on Friday that the system had entered into an agreement that will allow it to conduct the weekly testing, resulting in 16,000 tests being completed each week across its seven campuses.
Officials say that the cost of the tests could reach $18 million over the course of the semester and will be covered by the university. The system estimates that between increased expenses and lost revenue, the effects of the pandemic could cost more than $100 million.
The weekly testing plan is a dramatic increase from the fall, when the system initially only tested about 10 percent of its on-campus community every 10 days, and when the coronavirus was also much less prevalent in the state.
"The reality is that the background rate of the infection in Maine is far, far higher today than it was in August, when we began the last semester, and in the nation," Malloy said.
Malloy says the system could increase the frequency of testing if case rates increase. The system will also have a mobile testing lab on its Orono campus that will process all test results on-site.
Altogether, the efforts are meant to help the system quickly respond to new clusters of cases.
"It will give us a very good tool for being able to understand what we're seeing about incidences of the disease on our campuses, and then the ability to very rapidly address positive cases with quarantine, isolation, contact tracing," said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. "So all of that requires stepping up our capacity greatly, but it is what the science tells us is the right thing to do right now."