Maine’s public universities are seeing a spike in students test positive for the coronavirus just days before they’re supposed to return home to finish the semester remotely. As a result, several students — those who have tested positive and their close contacts — will have to quarantine on campus through the Thanksgiving holiday.
The University of Maine System saw two dozen students test positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. As of Monday morning, there are 84 active cases of the virus across the seven public universities, according to the university system’s daily coronavirus updates.
That’s the highest number of active cases the universities have recorded since the start of the fall semester, when the University of Maine System started regularly testing students and employees.
Sixty-six of the cases are at the flagship campus in Orono, where 13 new cases among students were reported on Sunday, according to system spokesperson Dan Demeritt. The 13 new cases marked the largest, single-day increase in cases since the university system started reporting daily case counts before the semester began.
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The number of active cases across the university system — which had seen early success in containing the virus as students returned to campus this fall — has increased tenfold in a month, from eight on Oct. 22 to 80 on Nov. 22. The spike at the public university campuses comes as all of Maine is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Even with the increase in cases, however, Maine colleges and universities have still seen some of the lowest numbers of coronavirus cases in the country this semester, according to college campus data maintained by The New York Times.
About a quarter of the active cases are among students who live in residence halls across the university system, but the universities still have plenty of available spaces that have been set aside for isolation and quarantine.
Thirty-one people are quarantining on university campuses because they’ve been exposed to the virus, while 11 are using campus isolation spaces because they’ve tested positive, Demeritt said. Others are quarantining and isolating off campus.
The university system is conducting a final round of testing before students depart for the Thanksgiving holiday and finish the semester from home. It’s testing all out-of-state and residential students, groups of students including athletes and those with K-12 student-teaching assignments, and random samples of other students and staff.
About 8,000 students and employees will be tested as part of that final round of tests, according to the university system.
“The University of Maine System’s safe departure testing is keeping asymptomatic cases of infection from traveling home with students to their communities and families,” University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said. “We want all of our students home with their families as soon as they are cleared to travel, but we have made plans to support isolating students with extra care and comfort through the Thanksgiving holiday.”