The wind blows hard Feb. 2 as a mixture of sleet and snow falls in front of Miller Library on the campus of Colby College in Waterville. This semester, Colby is increasing testing to three times a week. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Waterville-area institutions of higher learning reported low levels of COVID-19 as part of successful reintegrations from winter break.

Colby College, Thomas College and the University of Maine at Farmington are all under way in the spring semester and operating at the highest level of in-person opportunities they planned for during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A major takeaway from the fall semester and January term is the need to continue to closely monitor testing results, safety protocol compliance, as well as national and state trends and then to be flexible and adjust as needed,” Colby College officials said in prepared remarks. “Colby has a comprehensive plan in place and we take a deep look at the health of our community every day, including thoroughly investigating any positive cases, and this plays a key role in allowing us to make adjustments to protect our community.”

At Colby College, students returning from winter break and participating in the college’s traditional Jan Plan were required to participate in strict testing and quarantine measures.

For the spring semester approximately 2,000 students arrived  on Feb. 8-9 and underwent testing at home prior to and upon their arrival on campus. Once on campus, students participated in a mandatory quarantine for the first three days of classes before starting in-person classes Monday.

Everyone on campus is tested three times per week, up from twice weekly testing during most of the fall semester. Colby created a $10 million health plan to mitigate the virus. Community members also complete a daily symptom tracker and wear face coverings in all campus buildings.

There have been three positive student tests during the spring semester arrival process, the same amount as when students moved in for the fall semester, Colby officials said.

“The longer quarantine period was essential because case counts nationally and in Maine have been higher than in August when most students returned for the fall,” Colby officials said. “We also found that travel-related cases have taken up to five days to appear, which made it essential for Colby to have a longer quarantine to significantly reduce the possibility of community transmission.”

Colby College expects to complete approximately 130,000 tests this semester. The college has administered 40,000 tests since January.

Thomas College and the University of Maine at Farmington began their semesters weeks earlier than Colby, but both schools shared in the encouraging results and mitigation of the virus.

Thomas College began spring semester classes Jan. 19. All staff and students, both residential and commuter, were required to  undergo testing prior to the start of the semester. Students, faculty and staff are continuing twice-weekly tests throughout the semester.

“Our plan, we did it phased in,” Thomas College Vice President for Student Affairs Lisa Desautels-Poliquin said. “What we anticipated to happen happened, in that within the first week or so we had some positive cases. That’s part of why we test.”

Thomas College has recorded 56 total COVID-19 cases out of 19,406 tests since starting its testing regimen in August. Since testing before the spring semester began, 23 people tested positive. The twice-weekly testing helped keep cases at bay.

“Now we’ve sort of leveled off here and are back into a groove,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “I would say we rebuilt our bubble.”

Students walk beside Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington. Students and staff are tested weekly this semester, and have accounted for 20 cases of coronavirus this semester. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal file

The University of Maine at Farmington began the spring semester Jan. 25. Students started arriving on campus in early January. All students were tested and ordered to “shelter in place” until their results came back. The university continues its regular testing of students, staff and faculty weekly and moved to an app-based testing process for those on campus to schedule their own tests.

There have been 20 cases this semester, split evenly between on and off-campus community members. Over the last 14 days, UMF’s positivity rate is below 1% even with an increased testing threshold.

“Class modalities are being tweaked, students are still adding and dropping classes,” Christine Wilson, UMF vice president of student services, said in a prepared statement. “We are working to accommodate folks who are not here weekly or not on testing days, etc. … The trajectory of the virus in Maine has changed dramatically from the beginning of last semester to the beginning of this semester.”

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