FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington conducted over 800 asymptomatic COVID-19 tests on students and employees over the past three weeks leading up to the first day of school on Monday, August 31.

No positive cases were reported on campus but three days prior to classes starting, UMF announced that an adjunct faculty member tested positive for COVID-19. The individual had traveled out of state and was tested by their primary physician upon their return.

For freshman and resident students, the wait in line for testing ranged from 20 minutes to up to four hours depending on the student’s last name.

New resident students stand in socially distanced circles on campus at the University of Maine at Farmington. From left to right, Luke Bliss, roommates Erik Larkin and Louis Melendez, roommates Jack Leonard and Samuel True and roommates Lilly Solorzano and Ashley Ray. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

“It took a while, I think I was in that line for a little over two hours just waiting to get tested,” Sophomore Ryan McDonald said.

Resident students received their coronavirus test on their arrival day, August 18 and then proceeded to move their belongings in to their dorm rooms. They were then quarantined in their rooms with their new roommates while they waited for the test results.

“Twenty-seven of the tests were erred and they had to be retested along with them not finishing the original tests,” Freshman Lilly Solorzano said while hanging out with a group of friends in front of the UMF library.

The two-day shelter in place turned into an unanticipated four-day quarantine due to the testing complications. President Edward Serna sent out his apologies and announced that UMF has partnered with a new vendor, Vault Health to conduct future testing.

Resident students said that the extra time with their roommates helped to quickly establish their friendship, and they managed to find activities to prevent going stir crazy.

“We did go on walks to the trash room just because we wanted to be out of our room,” Freshman Ashley Ray said, who rooms with Solorzano.

The two roommates spent their four days decorating their room, watching Netflix and getting to know each other.

“We’re very similar so we got along almost immediately,” Solorzano said. 

The group of new UMF students echoed many of the same complaints about the four days that they were confined to their rooms.

“The food was really bad,” said the six students simultaneously while sitting at a table outside of the campus library.

“And I was kind of disappointed by how many plastic water bottles they gave us. For a campus that tries to be so green, that was not very green,” Freshman Samuel True said. 

Many students expressed their desire to return to campus for academic and social reasons, fearing the effects of online classes on their mental health.

“I wasn’t even scared about COVID, I was just more nervous about having the motivation to do classwork,” Sophomore Hillary Mayotte said.

For transfer student Erik Larkin, returning to a college setting was his top priority after taking a year off from school.

“I’m a very social person. I was ready for anything,” Larkin said. “It was good for me to be back.”

Transfer student Louis Melendez who is from Clearwater, Florida, was relieved to attend a small school in rural Maine where coronavirus cases have remained low.

“People didn’t, don’t really care down there [Florida],” Melendez said. “They don’t really wear their masks as often, they’re going to the beach, they’re doing everything. So I had peace of mind knowing that people were going to care more up here.”

The possibility of campus shutting down and in-person classes pivoting to online course work was still in the minds of students who made the decision to attend UMF and live on campus.

“I’m scared I’m going to be sent home. That’s the big thing,” True said, who fears that public paranoia would be a more likely reason for campus shutting down rather than an actual outbreak. “I’m really scared of people complaining a lot and then they’re going to send us home.”

Larkin believed that only a significant outbreak could cause campus and in-person classes to shut down.

“I just feel like most colleges are going about it in a way, and students know this, that you have the risk of going home. And the college definitely wants you on campus so they get their room and board money,” Larkin said. “As evil as that may be, you know that as a student signing up. I understand that when I came here that there’s a full-well possibility that we’ll get shut down.”

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