Stephanie Day, a COVID-19 clerical assistant at Thomas College, gives Daniel Guarino of Wakefield, Mass., a wrist band after he took a COVID-19 test upon his arrival Sept. 5 at the Waterville college. The college plans to double weekly testing when students return from Thanksgiving break to finish the semester in-person. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

As anxiety sets in across the country in regards to the coronavirus pandemic and holiday travel, central Maine colleges are doing their best to keep their students, staff, families and community safe.

Thomas College is bringing students back to finish the semester in-person, but are doing so carefully. Colby College and the University of Maine Farmington are finishing their semesters remotely after sending students home for Thanksgiving.

THOMAS COLLEGE

At Thomas College, just one on-campus individual associated with the college has tested positive over the semester, and another self-reported a positive result in a test taken outside the school. Classes end before the break on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Thomas College President Laurie G. Lachance announced in a Nov. 9 communication to the college’s community a more robust health and safety process for students returning after Thanksgiving.

“Some of it is our demographic. Over 80% of our students are from Maine and even through the semester they’re going home at times,” said Lisa Desautels-Poliquin, vice president of student affairs at Thomas. “Our community has been very committed to the pledge that we have, and obviously, as our numbers are showing, they’re taking that seriously.”

When Thomas went remote last spring, faculty learned in-person learning worked better and that there were advantages to in-person learning and other supportive services.

All residential students must return to campus by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 29. Residents will test upon arrival. Commuters will test on Sunday or Monday, as will faculty and staff. Testing will increase from once weekly to twice weekly through Dec. 18 in an effort to beef up safety measures.

All classes on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 will be held virtually, with in-person classes resuming the following day. Finals end on Dec. 18.

“In the in-person environment, it’s more rich for students,” Desautels-Poliquin said.

COLBY COLLEGE

At Colby, students are in class until Tuesday, Nov. 24, and are taking regularly scheduled COVID-19 tests until then. Colby is sending home information with students about travel conditions and how to keep safe on the road and encouraging minimal stoppages. They are also providing grab and go provisions for students to discourage stopping in restaurants on their way home.

“Given the uptick in cases in Maine, the College has adjusted the scheduling of tests so there’s more flexibility leading up to the break, which will allow students who are finished with classes to test earlier and depart campus if they have a negative result,” the college said in response to questions from the Morning Sentinel. “Additionally, some classes will go remote for the last few days so students can leave campus earlier.”

Save for a handful of students who are staying on campus, students will take a study period and finals at home, finishing on Tuesday, Dec. 8.

According to its own self-reporting COVID-19 dashboard, Colby has had 21 total positive cases, 12 students and 9 faculty members, since testing began in mid-August.

“We are also asking students to remain as vigilant at home as they were on campus in terms of mask-wearing, social distancing, and taking other safety precautions,” the college said. “Students need to bring home all of the protocols that we’ve asked them to follow while on campus.”

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE AT FARMINGTON

Over the course of the semester, seven people associated with UMaine Farmington tested positive for COVID-19, according to Dan Demeritt, executive director of public affairs for the University of Maine System. The UMaine system announced its plan for student returns on Nov. 10. In that plan, the system outlined its intentions to pause nonessential appointments and activities, limiting campus access by outsiders, emphasizing remote work and transitioning events to virtual settings.

The UMaine system initiated a beefed up testing protocol on Nov. 19 to “maximize safety amidst rising cases and ensure the maximum number of participants can travel for the holiday with a negative test result in hand,” according to a release from the system. The decision to go remote after Thanksgiving was made during the summer.

“As November 25, the holidays, and the final (virtual) stretch of the semester approach, we want to remind everyone that your responsibility to your community — both here at Farmington and back home with your families — does not diminish,” a release from UMF Safe Return said. “Please be mindful when arriving in other states that quarantine or testing requirements may apply to you. You must do your utmost to keep your loved ones and communities safe if you are moving about or visiting with others during finals and winter break.”

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