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January 19, 2021

UMaine System to ramp up COVID testing in February

Dannel Malloy walking with students (all are masked) File photo / Courtesy, University of Maine System University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy, shown here with students, called for expanding and better coordinating research across the University of Maine Sytem.

The University of Maine System is getting ready to ramp of COVID testing next month, when it plans weekly tests of tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff members.

It announced the plan for a new so-called test-trace strategy last Friday via a partnership with Shield T3, an organization created by the University of Illinois.

Shield T3 will provide processing capacity for about 16,000 non-invasive, saliva-based PCR tests a week, reducing result waiting times to 24 hours or less. The tests will be conducted on individuals with in-person experiences, according to the announcement.

University of Maine System spokesman Dan Demeritt told Mainebiz on Monday that the System is currently testing for new arrivals, all of whom will be retested, and that the weekly universal screening is scheduled to start the week of Feb. 1.

The agreement with Shield T3 includes delivery of a mobile testing laboratory to the University of Maine in Orono where Shield T3 will process test results on site to eliminate the need to ship collected samples to out-of-state laboratories for processing.  

Samples can be collected in less than three minutes, and results can be delivered electronically to participants in under 24 hours. The reported testing specificity, the capacity of a screening test to detect a true negative result, is between 99.8% and 99.9% yielding very few false positives. All positive samples are retested using the originally-collected sample to further reduce the chance of false positives. 

“The public health commitment and leadership of our students, faculty, and staff got us through the fall semester together,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy in a news release. “Thanks to additional resources authorized by Governor Mills, we will be able to test and report results promptly every week for every UMS community member who has in-person, on-campus experiences – a testing schedule that we believe is critical to maintaining our academic operations through the current state of the pandemic.” 

Governor Janet Mills has been a strong supporter of UMaine System testing strategies, providing $6.5 million in federal CARES Act funds for reimbursement of fall testing expenses.

'Urgent task' ahead

Malloy recently told Mainebiz that the UMaine System’s science-informed safe return to campus last fall was among the country’s best, and predicts that Maine’s public universities will also lead when it comes to deploying the vaccine.

He also spoke to challenges following pandemic-related disruptions for 2020 high school graduates, saying, "Public higher education has no more urgent task in 2021, than to work with parents and mentors and local educators to keep students of all abilities and backgrounds on track and prepared for post-secondary educational and skill development opportunities.”

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