Husson University in Bangor and a Bible college in rural Penobscot County are among the sites of new coronavirus outbreaks the state’s public health agency announced Friday as the state continues to see an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases.
There are 15 cases of COVID-19 at Husson University as well as three at Faith Bible College International in Charleston, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said.
There are also outbreaks of three cases each at Portland High School and Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Five COVID-19 cases have been detected at the Skowhegan-Madison Elks Lodge.
The Husson University cases stem from an off-campus Halloween party where those in attendance weren’t wearing masks, said Husson spokesperson Eric Gordon. Six of the 15 students who have tested positive were at the party and have been quarantining since last week, he said. The other positive cases are in people who came in close contact with the six students.
Gordon did not say what disciplinary action the students who attended the party would face.
Husson spokesperson Eric Gordon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon.
Public schools and colleges in Maine have largely been able to stem the spread of COVID-19 during the fall, with strict rules requiring face coverings and physical distancing at schools and surveillance testing at colleges. But they have seen their numbers of cases rise recently as the rest of the state experiences a surge in infections. Maine colleges and universities have still seen some of the lowest numbers of cases on college campuses in the country.
“This number of outbreaks on a day-to-day basis seems concerning,” Shah said. “The positivity rate has increased as the disease has spread to every single corner of the state. That level of community spread is generating more and more outbreaks.”
Rising case numbers at university campuses forced three campuses within the University of Maine System to shut down briefly last week: the University of Southern Maine, with campuses in Portland and Gorham; the University of Maine School of Law in Portland; and the University of Maine at Presque Isle which temporarily switched to all-remote instruction on Friday amid new cases but had resumed in-person classes by Monday.
There are currently 41 cases at Maine’s seven public universities, 29 of which are at the flagship campus in Orono. The case increase at UMaine is partly due to a cluster of cases associated with employees in the university’s facilities management office.
Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, which had more than a dozen active cases of the virus this week, started switching to all-remote instruction this week, earlier than planned.
More than 20 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Maine have been recorded in November alone, with the state seeing more than 1,900 new cases since the start of the month.
One of the state’s largest ongoing outbreaks is at Russell Park Rehabilitation and Living Center in Lewiston, which has now detected 129 COVID-19 cases — 64 among residents and 65 among staff. Three people at the facility have died of COVID-19 and three others are currently hospitalized, Shah said.
Increased spread of the coronavirus in communities where nursing homes are located raises the risk that the virus will find its way into those facilities.
“The surge that we had predicted has arrived and has arrived with force and ferocity,” Shah said.