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November 9, 2020

UMaine steps up response as COVID-19 spreads among staff; other campuses close briefly

An outbreak of COVID-19 reported last week among administrators at the University of Maine doubled in size to 10 cases by Saturday, as the Orono school stepped up precautions to contain possible spread of the disease.

The infected staff, all members of the facilities management department, were isolating at home with support from UMaine and in coordination with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the university said in a news release Saturday afternoon.

Some were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, but none of the 10 had been reported as hospitalized. All but one are administrative staff in the department.

The university said it plans to test all 240 members of the department, including 80 custodial employees, in order to identify and isolate any additional cases. Forty-three department members have already been tested and the remaining tests will occur early this week.

“We are hopeful that all individuals in our communities who have tested positive and are afflicted or impacted by COVID-19 will have good health and rapid recovery, and will experience quarantine and isolation periods that progress easily,” UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said.

The school continues to perform contact tracing to identify other individuals on or off campus who may need to quarantine or get tested, according to the release. In addition, the facilities management office has been temporarily closed, and the department is implementing a plan to continue basic operations with a limited number of workers.

The University of Maine, flagship of the University of Maine System, has an enrollment of nearly 12,000.

The system has an enrollment of 30,000 and over 5,000 faculty and staff members at its seven public universities and law school. UMS has been testing employees and students for COVID-19 infection since July, and to date has conducted nearly 30,300 tests. A total of 42 cases of infection have been identified throughout the system, including two residential students who are now in isolation.

On the UMaine campus, another 7,000 tests are planned before it shuts down in-person instruction after Thanksgiving break, as planned, 

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 three of its 10 campuses.

Sampling last week at Orono and the University of Southern Maine campus in Gorham showed the presence of the virus. UMS is also conducting wastewater tests at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

In response to the Gorham test result, the University of Southern Maine and the UMaine School of Law temporarily halted in-person classes on Friday. After an employee of the University of Maine at Presque Isle also tested positive for COVID-19, that campus also temporarily switched to remote instruction.

All three schools were scheduled to resume regular in-person classes Monday.

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