Maine colleges and universities are reporting small numbers of COVID-19 cases on campus as the fall semester gets underway.

For the most part, vaccination requirements have kept cases to a minimum, though some campuses are adjusting COVID-19 protocols in response to cases among students and in the broader community.

Angelica Pena, a senior from New York City, takes a COVID-19 test at Bowdoin’s Farley Field House on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Bowdoin College in Brunswick transitioned to “yellow” status Thursday in response to 14 new student cases, meaning gatherings are not permitted in residence halls and dining halls are to-go only. Six more cases were reported Friday, bringing the total reported since Monday to 21. A staff member also tested positive Friday using a college-supplied antigen test.

“Bowdoin expected to have some positive cases among our student body and has planned for this,” spokesman Doug Cook said in an email. “The steps Bowdoin has taken are designed to shut this down and keep it to a minimum.”

Bowdoin was the first Maine college to announce a vaccine requirement, in April, and it has a nearly 100 percent vaccination rate among students, faculty and staff. The college has conducted contact tracing and believes all the student cases to be related. It is also increasing PCR testing for students and will be testing all students twice weekly starting next week.

In a letter to the campus community Thursday, Mike Ranen, the college’s COVID-19 resource coordinator, said at least 46 students have been identified as close contacts of the original 14 positive cases and all will be tested daily over the next several days. Bowdoin enrolls about 1,800 students.

“The delta variant remains a serious concern as cases continue to rise across the country – Maine reported 624 new cases of COVID-19 today, which is the highest for a single day since the peak of the pandemic last January,” Ranen said. “The good news here is that virtually all of us at the college are fully vaccinated and the vaccines continue to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization.”

The University of Maine System had 27 known active cases across its seven campuses as of Thursday, including one in Fort Kent, three in Presque Isle, 13 in Orono, one in Machias, one in Augusta and eight at the University of Southern Maine. Those include cases identified through on-campus asymptomatic testing and self-reported tests. By comparison, the system reached a peak of 121 known active cases on Nov. 30, 2020.

The UMaine System, which is requiring vaccinations for in-person students and has said it plans to do so for in-person employees, has a 73 percent vaccination rate among an in-person population of 25,500. Discussions between the system and labor unions about implementation of an employee vaccination mandate are ongoing, spokesman Dan Demeritt said Friday.

Raul Sandoval, a junior from Chicago, takes a COVID test at Bowdoin College’s Farley Field House on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Among students living in residence halls, 94 percent have verified their vaccination status, and among full-time employees 81 percent have verified their vaccination status. Systemwide, 98 percent of quarantine space and 93 percent of isolation space remain available.

At Colby College in Waterville, eight positive cases have been reported out of 6,461 tests conducted since Aug. 16. “We know from past experiences and extensive modeling that Colby’s riskiest time in terms of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus is when everyone is returning to campus,” the college said in a statement.

With that in mind, the college has made a recent change to its COVID-19 protocols and through at least Sept. 12 will be requiring indoor masking on campus with the exception of individual residence hall rooms or offices and in dining halls while students are eating.

“While Colby is anticipating that nearly 100 percent of our campus community will be vaccinated, we will continue to monitor the health of our community, which is our No. 1 priority, through a rigorous testing program, and adapt our policies and procedures as the circumstances require,” the college said.

At Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, three positive cases were identified among students during arrival testing last weekend and one case has been identified outside campus in a staff member. Saint Joseph’s enrolls about 1,000 on-campus students.

“Given the prevalence of delta in Maine this is much better than we would have expected last semester give the transmissibility, the number of cases in Maine and that students are coming from outside Maine where transmission rates are high,” said Oliver Griswold, chief brand and marketing officer for the college. “Three cases, even if they’re breakthrough cases, seems like a big reprieve.”

Bowdoin College students line up to take COVID tests Friday at Farley Field House. The college has a nearly 100 percent vaccination rate among its students, faculty and staff.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Griswold said the college’s vaccination rate of 99 percent leaves it well-positioned for an in-person semester. “We have put a lot of weight on the efficacy of the vaccines and we’re still very confident we will have lower case numbers and those cases will be much less of a risk to each individual student or staff member,” he said.

The University of New England, with campuses in Biddeford and Portland, has reported 11 COVID cases among students since the start of the semester in late August, including five students who tested positive before their arrival and delayed their return.

In a letter to the campus community Thursday, UNE President James Herbert said 100 percent of students are now compliant with the university’s vaccination policy and employees are “extremely close” to achieving the same rate. Overall, the vaccination rate on campus is 98 percent.

“I want to commend you, our students, faculty and professional staff, for being proactive and taking this vital step to protect yourselves, your peers and the community at large against COVID-19,” Herbert said in the letter. “I also want to extend my appreciation to the many units who supported this effort. UNE’s extremely high vaccination rate demonstrates our leadership and commitment to public health, and I could not be prouder of this extraordinary community.”

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