University System Responds to Community Spread and Outbreaks in York County with Amplified Containment, Support Strategies 

University safe return practices remain in place throughout the state as efforts are temporarily expanded in Southern Maine to address pandemic developments

Portland, Maine — The University of Maine System is responding to epidemiological concerns in York County with amplified steps to identify and limit the spread of COVID-19 among students, employees, and regional communities. The temporary steps will include additional asymptomatic screening focused on select University facilities, enhanced outreach, support, and safety measures, and messaging for students and employees throughout Southern Maine. The University will also be emphasizing the use of communication and support protocols established to assist community members impacted by the pandemic. 

The University System’s safe return plans are proceeding as envisioned, with strong participation and leadership from students, faculty, and staff. These plans include the need to respond to community-based developments with the pandemic.  

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the York County positivity rate is approximately four times the state average and new cases-per-capita significantly exceed other regions of the state. The state has also updated York County’s readiness for K–12 school reopening because of an elevated risk of virus transmission (Press Herald, 9/11/20).

The University of Southern Maine with campuses in Gorham and Portland, the University of Maine at Augusta with a center in Saco, the University of Maine with a Cooperative Extension office in Springvale, and the University of Maine School of Law in Portland are all contributing to the amplified effort. 

“Throughout the pandemic Maine’s public universities have put the interests and safety of our students and community members first,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “We will be conducting additional screening at our facilities and stepping up our support and safety efforts for students and employees to help public health officials and Southern Maine communities limit the spread of COVID-19.”   

Safe return practices and monitoring for COVID-19 remain in place throughout the state, including the random and directed sampling of 2,000 University System students and employees engaged in on-campus activities every ten days. The University System reports on known COVID-19 cases involving students and employees daily. The amplified containment and support measures announced today exemplify the additional temporary steps Maine’s universities will take to aid in the state’s response to the pandemic.  

“We have known from the start that safely welcoming our students back to campus was just the beginning,” said University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings. “USM and our sister institutions are prepared to intensify our efforts to identify and limit the spread of infection when needed to protect our communities and help lead Maine’s response to changes in the pandemic.”  

The University System’s amplified containment and support efforts including the following:

Amplified Screening — Testing Approximately 700 Students and Employees: The University of Maine System will coordinate amplified asymptomatic screening of community members utilizing three university facilities or campuses in Southern Maine over the next several days as follows:

  • University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine School of Law:  Round one random sampling of more than 400 individuals selected at random for screening from the USM and Maine Law communities begins Monday, September 14. Amplified screening is scheduled for Monday, September 21, and will include all residential hall students at USM’s Gorham campus.  
  • At Maine Law: Amplified testing for staff, faculty, and students with residences in York County who come to the Maine Law building will begin this week;
  • University of Maine at Augusta Center in Saco: Will conduct asymptomatic tests for several individuals who frequently visit the University Center in Saco; and,
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office in Springvale: Several individuals working through the cooperative extension office in Springvale will be tested.

Students and employees from York County are also being encouraged to access testing provided by state-sponsored sites if they believe they may have COVID-19 or could have been exposed to the virus. The Maine CDC has provided information on York County testing sites in this press release regarding additional cases in the Sanford area. 

Enhanced Safety Measures and Messaging: Southern Maine facilities and campuses are coordinating efforts to ensure existing safe return plans and practices are followed and safety supplies such as hand sanitizer stations are properly stocked. Members of the facilities teams will be conducting site inspections to ensure that furniture placement and other measures taken at the start of the semester are still in place. 

At the University of Southern Maine there will be a communication campaign that re-emphasizes the importance of face coverings, physical distancing, encouraging a flu shot, the merits of the Healthy Husky Promise, and the value of the #campusclear symptom-checker app. 

Outreach and Support for Students and Employees: Academic leaders, student life, and faculty are being urged to consider the potential impact heightened epidemiological concerns in York County may have on students and provide accommodations and support as needed.

The Return to Work Safety Guide for employees developed as part of the Together for Maine planning recognizes the personal and medical circumstances impacting university community members. Supervisors and HR partners at facilities in the Southern Maine region will be using the tools in this guide in collaboration with faculty, staff, and student employees to assess circumstances and support community members.