A member of the University of Maine men’s hockey team who was suspected of having contracted COVID-19 has tested negative for the virus.
University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt said the results of a PCR test administered to the affected student-athlete on Wednesday came back negative on Friday.
Both rapid antigen tests given previously were deemed to have yielded a “false positive.” Such false positives are more common with antigen tests, which are lower-cost and designed to produce results quickly but are less accurate than PCR tests that are analyzed in laboratories.
UMaine on Thursday paused men’s hockey activities and placed the team in a 10-day quarantine after the antigen tests. Its weekend games at UMass Lowell also were called off.
Demeritt said the player in question had been in close contact with someone not affiliated with the UMaine program who was later diagnosed with the coronavirus.
UMaine Director of Athletics Ken Ralph said the contact with the infected person was not the result of any social gatherings. He stressed that all PCR tests performed on team members since the possible exposure have been negative for COVID-19.
“There have been no cases to date with the men’s hockey program,” Ralph said.
In spite of the negative PCR test result, UMaine hockey players will remain in quarantine.
According to the Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, Massachusetts, members of the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team this week tested positive for COVID-19, forcing postponement of its upcoming series against Merrimack. UNH and UMaine played games last Friday and Saturday in Durham, New Hampshire.
UMaine officials would not confirm whether UNH was the source of the contact with the UMaine player whose COVID-19 test came into question.
UMaine athletics is performing rigorous testing of its student-athletes, coaches and staff members during the COVID-19 pandemic. The frequency of the testing is mandated by the conferences in which its teams compete and varies according to the leagues.
For members of the men’s and women’s hockey programs, including the coaches, trainers and equipment personnel, the rapid antigen test is administered seven days a week as required by the Hockey East Association.
People involved with the UMaine women’s and men’s basketball programs are required under America East Conference rules to be tested five times per week.
The rapid antigen tests are evaluated at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory. If there is a positive test, UMaine’s Emergency Operations Center is informed and that person is re-tested with both another antigen test and then a PCR test.
The EOC then begins contact tracing and reports its findings to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The PCR test is sent to Rutgers University in New Jersey for evaluation.
Demeritt said UMaine continues to closely monitor the members of its athletic programs and adheres to the COVID-19 guidelines established by the state, the league and the university system.
“Maine is in a period of increasing community transmission of COVID-19 and everyone is at risk of infection,” Demeritt said. “We are constantly considering ways to improve our protocols, but the measures we have in place are working.
“UMaine’s student-athletes are getting an opportunity to compete while we monitor for the disease and isolate known and possible cases to limit the spread of the virus.”
Late last month, UMaine detected an undisclosed number of positive COVID-19 cases among student-athletes on winter sports teams. That led UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy to withdraw Black Bear teams from intercollegiate competition for two weeks.
Athletes on the affected teams were quarantined, while members of other teams continued to practice.
Ralph said UMaine student-athletes are allowed to engage in all normal activities just like anyone else in the community. Some athletes live on campus, while others have off-campus housing.
“That being said, they need to remain socially distanced and be masked at all times,” Ralph said. “They understand that a positive test could halt the program and they have a responsibility to act accordingly.”
The men’s hockey team isn’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 1-2, 2021, also against UMass Lowell. The series is slated to be held in Orono.
However, an executive order issued by Gov. Janet Mills limits indoor gatherings to 50 people, which would make it impossible to host a college hockey game. The series will likely be moved to Lowell, Massachusetts.