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November 6, 2020

5 UMaine administrators test positive for COVID-19, while cases soar statewide

As cases of COVID-19 rise across the state, the University of Maine on Thursday reported that five employees had tested positive for the disease. For the first time, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has also been detected in the Orono campus wastewater.

Some of the five infected employees are experiencing symptoms and are in isolation at home, the university said in a news release. All five are administrative workers in the facilities management department.

UMaine has responded by performing contact tracing and deep cleaning of offices and vehicles used by the staff, and is coordinating with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The university also has offered free COVID testing to other facility employees, 38 of whom participated in the screening.

UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in the release, “We have great concern for our students and colleagues currently in isolation, and hope for their quick and complete recovery. We have successfully managed cases of infection and limited the spread of the virus in our community and throughout the region because of our science-based strategies and our commitment to safety practices. 

“COVID-19 cases are on the rise across Maine and we must all be even more diligent now in our handwashing, safe distancing and wearing of face coverings to keep each other safe.”

The University of Maine System, which includes the state’s seven public universities, an enrollment of 30,000 and over 5,000 faculty and staff members, has been testing employees and students for COVID infection since July. To date, UMS has conducted over 28,000 tests, and identified 29 cases of the disease.

In addition, the university system has been conducting tests to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, in wastewater samples from some of its 10 campuses. The sampling has included wastewater flowing from the UMaine facilities management offices.

A sample taken Tuesday and tested Wednesday showed the presence of coronavirus at nearly twice the level of detection, although still a “low” concentration, according to the news release.

The UMaine System has been testing wastewater at its campuses in Orono, Fort Kent and Gorham since August. All prior test results have been negative.

University testing conducted with the town of Orono identified a low but detectable level of the virus in a sample collected on Oct. 28 at the Orono Water Pollution Control Facility.  A follow-up sample collected Oct. 30 indicated virus levels in the low-to-undetectable range.

Earlier this week, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order mandating that Maine residents use protective face masks while in public, regardless of whether social distancing is possible. On Friday, Maine recorded 184 new cases of COVID-19, the fourth day in a row in which the total had reached an all-time high. 

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