The University of Maine System plans to expand coronavirus testing this spring when students return to campus on Jan. 25.

“Our efforts for the second semester will be similar but different than what we did in the fall,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “The primary difference will be substantially greater amounts of testing given the rate of infection in Maine and in the nation, and understanding the many more opportunities people are having to come in to contact with the disease.”

Students on the system’s seven campuses are scheduled to return to a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes after the winter break ends Jan. 25, a week later than originally scheduled. As of Tuesday there were 20,125 students enrolled for the spring semester, which is about 2 percent less than at the same point last year.

The system is currently preparing for a spring return that includes more testing and the possible rollout of COVID vaccines to students and staff. Malloy said returning faculty, staff and students should expect to be tested “far more frequently” this spring, though details of what that looks like are still being worked out.

In the fall, the system conducted two rounds of return-to-campus asymptomatic testing for out of state and residence hall students in addition to special populations such as student athletes and students participating in off-campus clinical experiences. About 2,000 students, staff and faculty were tested randomly and received follow-up asymptomatic testing at least every 10 days. In addition, the system tested wastewater on campuses with significant residence hall populations for the genetic markers of the virus that show up in waste when people are infected.

Malloy said Tuesday that the system is now looking at weekly screening for staff and students. “The presumption is that after students present with a test, are tested once and tested again, there would be a weekly screening,” Malloy said. “We’re still negotiating with vendors, but that is what we expect it to look like, and that would be for people who are using campus – if you’re a staff member, faculty member or student using campus.”

The university system also has appointed a task force on vaccine partnership and planning that is working to facilitate vaccine distribution across the state and contribute to student and public awareness around the efficacy and safety of COVID vaccines. Malloy does not expect vaccines to be available for distribution to students and staff on campuses before March.

He said the system would consider requiring vaccines for staff and students, but would not do so without full FDA authorization. The two vaccines currently available, from Pfizer and Moderna, only have emergency use authorization.

“I’m happy to be the first one to take it,” Malloy said. “I’m sure some of my colleagues are also ready. So I don’t think we will have a shortage of people who want to take the vaccine, but there’s a difference between a fully approved vaccine becoming available and one that’s done on an emergency basis. We see that difference. My hope is 100 percent of folks will overcome that resistance and want to be vaccinated, but I don’t think we’re in a position to require it at the moment.”

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