Coronavirus cases in the University of Maine System reached their highest point of the semester this week, with 95 active cases reported across the seven campuses on Thursday.

That’s up from just 26 active cases across the system on March 12 and a semester low of 17 cases on March 2. Though the positivity rate on state university campuses remains below the state average, some staff and students are not participating in the required weekly COVID-19 testing.

Most of the recent increase is driven by the University of Maine Orono, which houses the largest number of residential students in the system and where there were active 71 cases as of Thursday and 65 as of Friday. The systemwide case count also dropped slightly to 84 active cases on Friday.

Robert Dana, vice president for student life and dean of students at Orono, attributed the rise in cases to a combination of community spread and congregate living settings, including residence halls and Greek life where students have more incidental and direct contact with one another. Of the 65 cases active on Friday, the vast majority are among students, not faculty or staff.

“What is happening here is what is happening across the country,” Dana said. “There is normal community transmission and students are interacting with people both in their living environment but also sometimes in social environments where they have either direct or incidental contact.”

The increase in cases on university campuses comes as cases statewide declined in January and February following a post-holiday surge but have since been increasing. The seven-day average of new cases was at 194 on Friday, up from 171 two weeks ago, and the seven-day positivity rate for PCR tests was 2.13 percent.


In comparison, the positivity rate on state university campuses was 0.55 percent for the weekly round of testing that concluded March 14. The system also calculates a “prevalence rate” that estimates the number of positives there would be if it were possible to truly test every in-person student and staff member. That number was 0.64 percent for the week ending March 14.

All staff and students in the University of Maine System who work, live and study in-person on campus are required to participate in weekly coronavirus testing this spring. That totals about 16,000 people systemwide.

However, only about 68 percent of people eligible to test are regularly participating at the Orono campus. About 8,000 people are invited to test each week in Orono, including staff and employees and the participation rate has fluctuated between 61 and 72 percent each week.

The numbers are only slightly different when looking at just students, for whom the participation rate is 66 percent for the semester. Testing is taking place on all seven campuses, but participation data was not available late Friday for other campuses.

Some absences are expected in the testing program, but people who consistently miss their invitation to test can face student conduct or employment repercussions, said Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the system.

“We think we’ve had a strong impact in terms of the health of the university community and the Maine communities where students, staff and faculty spend their time, but there’s no perfect in these types of initiatives and we’re working very hard and doing all we can to get people to participate,” Demeritt said.

The University of Maine canceled spring break this year and instead students had a two day mini-break in the middle of this week to discourage travel over a long weekend. For the most part, Dana said students have continued to adhere to masking and other public health protocols, though there may be some pandemic fatigue. “We’ve really been amplifying the messaging to them of, ‘Don’t get tired now. Stay with us and keep following these careful healthy behaviors,'” he said.

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