Workers lift double doors during installation Aug. 14 at the coronavirus testing center at Colby College in Waterville. As of Friday, the college and its testing partner had administered more than 16,000 COVID-19 tests. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file phoot Buy this Photo

As colleges in central Maine welcome students back to campus, strict testing protocols have been implemented to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus.

So far, officials at Colby College, Thomas College and the University of Maine at Farmington feel that they have a good handle on testing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

COLBY COLLEGE

Over the last two and a half weeks, Colby College in Waterville has administered more than 16,000 COVID-19 tests to students and faculty with the help of its testing partner, the Broad Institute.

The testing process takes just under 3 minutes, with the college receiving the results in 24 hours or less, according to George Sopko, director of media relations for Colby.

Of the total tests administered, eight have come back positive. As of Thursday, six of the positive cases have recovered with two still in isolation.

“We feel that the low number of positive COVID-19 cases identified and reported since testing began two and a half weeks ago at Colby is a good sign,” Sopko said Thursday in a prepared statement. “And we hope that will continue and even be reduced. Imperative to this will be for our community to continue to be diligent with prevention and mitigation efforts.” 

The college, which enrolls around 2,000 students, created a $10 million health plan in order to bring students back to campus for in-person instruction.

Part of the plan is to test students three times per week and staff two times per week.

Colby has also launched a webpage that includes the total number of negative tests, inconclusive tests and positive cases, as well as the number of people in isolation.

According to Colby’s testing data, there are 18 students currently in quarantine. Sopko said this is because contact tracing showed that they came into contact with individuals who tested positive.

THOMAS COLLEGE

Thomas College of Waterville has reported no positive cases of COVID-19 since it began testing students on Aug. 19.

So far, 749 tests have been administered and the school plans to test 50% of the campus each week as students and staff return, according to Lisa Desautels-Poliquin, vice president of student affairs for Thomas College.

Desautels-Poliquin said she’s pleased with the test results so far, but noted that testing isn’t the only thing the college is doing to prevent an outbreak.

Testing is one part of our overall plan to bring everyone back to campus,” Desautels-Poliquin said in an email. “Wearing masks, social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene, and reduced occupancy across campus are also extremely important to keeping our community together this fall.”

Desautels-Poliquin said that the college has hired new staff members to help with the prevention efforts.

“We’ve hired two new full-time and two per-diem staff members who have done an outstanding job, in a relatively short time, getting our testing schedule and process up and running,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “We have a new testing coordinator who will assist with overseeing the program and doing the necessary follow up.” 

New students are set to move into campus accommodations on Saturday. The college will welcome them to campus with a new student orientation that will begin with screening and testing and be followed by socially distanced events such as bingo, a comedy show and a barbecue.

This fall, 81% of classes will be offered in person or in hybrid formats in socially distanced classrooms, according to Mackenzie Riley Young, assistant director of media relations for Thomas College.

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE

Throughout the eight campuses that make up the University of Maine system, officials have reported eight positive cases of COVID-19 out of more than 8,200 tests.

In Farmington, an adjunct faculty member tested positive earlier this week and is currently isolating in the Farmington area, according to Dan Demeritt, executive director of public relations for the University of Maine system.

Demeritt said the results coming out of the system are lower than expected.

“At less than one-tenth-of-one-percent, the University System’s positivity rate is significantly below state and national averages,” Demeritt said in an email. “We are starting the semester with a lower-than-expected case count and that is great news.”

The system has implemented its testing in three phases which began on Aug. 11.

Phase one tested all students in the residence halls, including Maine residents and all out-of-state students on or off campus.

In Farmington, no students tested positive out of the 818 tests that were administered.

Phase two began on Friday and will involve retesting all of the students who were tested in the first phase, but through a saliva-based test, which is easier to administer.

In the third phase, beginning in mid-September, officials will sample about 2,000 people across the University of Maine System every 10 days or less.

For students in Farmington, the fall semester will comprise a mix of in-person instruction and hybrid learning. On Nov. 25, courses will shift to remote learning for the remainder of the fall semester.

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