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UMaine System amplifies COVID-19 efforts in response to York County outbreaks

There are currently two active cases of COVID-19 across the UMaine System; both are at the UMaine campus in Orono.

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System (UMS) says there are just two active COVID-19 cases among students—both are at UMaine in Orono. Despite the low number of active cases, the System said Monday in response to epidemiological concerns in York County, UMS is amplifying steps to identify and limit the spread of COVID-19.

The latest update from UMS says a student at UMaine at Fort Kent has been released from isolation, bringing that campus' total active case count to zero. UMaine in Orono is now the only university in the UMaine System with active COVID-19 cases.

The temporary steps announced Monday will include additional asymptomatic screening focused on select University facilities, enhanced outreach, support, and safety measures, and messaging for students and employees throughout Southern Maine. The University will also be emphasizing the use of communication and support protocols established to assist community members impacted by the pandemic.  

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the York County positivity rate is approximately four times the state average and new cases-per-capita significantly exceed other regions of the state.

The University of Southern Maine with campuses in Gorham and Portland, the University of Maine at Augusta with a center in Saco, the University of Maine with a Cooperative Extension office in Springvale, and the University of Maine School of Law in Portland are all contributing to the amplified effort. 

“Throughout the pandemic Maine’s public universities have put the interests and safety of our students and community members first,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “We will be conducting additional screening at our facilities and stepping up our support and safety efforts for students and employees to help public health officials and Southern Maine communities limit the spread of COVID-19.” 

The University System’s amplified containment and support efforts including the following:

Amplified Screening — Testing Approximately 700 Students and Employees: The University of Maine System will coordinate amplified asymptomatic screening of community members utilizing three university facilities or campuses in Southern Maine over the next several days as follows:

  • University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law:  Round one random sampling of more than 400 individuals selected at random for screening from the USM and Maine Law communities begins Monday, September 14. Amplified screening is scheduled for Monday, September 21, and will include all residential hall students at USM’s Gorham campus.  
  • At Maine Law: Amplified testing for staff, faculty, and students with residences in York County who come to the Maine Law building will begin this week;
  • University of Maine at Augusta Center in Saco: Will conduct asymptomatic tests for several individuals who frequently visit the University Center in Saco; and,
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office in Springvale: Several individuals working through the cooperative extension office in Springvale will be tested.

Students and employees from York County are also being encouraged to access testing provided by state-sponsored sites if they believe they may have COVID-19 or could have been exposed to the virus. 

Enhanced Safety Measures and Messaging: Southern Maine facilities and campuses are coordinating efforts to ensure existing safe return plans and practices are followed and safety supplies such as hand sanitizer stations are properly stocked. Members of the facilities teams will be conducting site inspections to ensure that furniture placement and other measures taken at the start of the semester are still in place. 

At the University of Southern Maine, there will be a communication campaign that re-emphasizes the importance of face coverings, physical distancing, encouraging a flu shot, the merits of the Healthy Husky Promise, and the value of the #campusclear symptom-checker app. 

Outreach and Support for Students and Employees: Academic leaders, student life, and faculty are being urged to consider the potential impact heightened epidemiological concerns in York County may have on students and provide accommodations and support as needed.

UMS implemented a three-phased asymptomatic screening and public health monitoring strategy made possible through a partnership with Jackson Laboratory and CovenientMD. Phase one arrival screening is currently underway.

To date, the University's screening effort has resulted in 14 total positive COVID-19 cases among 14,658 tests completed, though one of those results was from an individual previously diagnosed with COVID-19.

Last Tuesday's report explained that the individual who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 was recently tested as part of the University's screening effort after the individual had been released from public health authority isolation.

"It is not the general practice of the UMS Asymptomatic Screening Strategy to knowingly test previously diagnosed individuals for up to three months," UMS explains. "This is in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that suggests individuals can continue to test positive for up to three months after diagnosis and not be infectious to others. This footnote is intended to explain why 1 positive test being reported today is treated differently in the summary of asymptomatic screening results.

UMS says it has 607 spaces set aside to serve as either isolation or quarantine space, with 94% of isolation space and 98% of quarantine space available.

UMS says there are no known cases at any of the other UMS campuses.

UMS is extending planned asymptomatic COVID-19 testing through the fall semester, with plans to sample approximately 2,000 students, staff, and faculty members “at least every 10 days,” according to a release. Phase three will now last through the Thanksgiving holiday end of in-person instruction. 

“Our screening strategy is working as intended, identifying and isolating a case of COVID-19 that might otherwise have gone undetected and possibly spread infection on our campus and in our classrooms,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a release. “More than 5,000 Black Bears have already committed themselves to being leaders in our science-based public health campaign this fall. With everyone doing their best, we can stay safe and together throughout the semester.”

All community members who work, study, or participate in campus-based activities will be subject to the random sampling to monitor and limit the spread of COVID-19. Online university students who do not visit campuses will not participate in the screening.

Phase two will begin shortly after classes begin on Aug. 31, retesting all students tested in the arrival phase one.

Phase three sampling of approximately 2,000 students and employees at least every 10 days will begin in September, soon after the completion of phase two screening. The precise number of tests conducted in the phase three sampling will be determined by an analysis of the incidence rates in phases one and two, and the statistical modeling employed by university scientists. 

Wastewater testing to monitor public health conditions will be implemented on the campuses with the infrastructure necessary to support wastewater testing: UMaine, UMaine at Fort Kent, and UMaine at Machias. 

“Student and community health is our top priority,” Chancellor Dannel Malloy said. “Our Scientific Advisory Board has developed a sampling strategy for asymptomatic individuals that will give us actionable, up-to-date information throughout the semester about our efforts to limit the spread of infection and to protect our students, employees and communities.”

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