By Haley Hersey, Staff Writer
As warmer weather approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic is still here, which is evident as positive test results surge throughout Maine and the University of Maine System. Efforts to continue learning in settings as close to normal are underway, as the spread of vaccines continues. However, decreases in weekly tests campus-wide are proving to be worrisome.
According to the Together for Maine Daily Briefing and COVID-19 Data Update, as of April 7th, there were 60 known positive cases of COVID-19 within the University of Maine System (UMS). Of those 60 cases, only four were from the University of Southern Maine (USM).
Third-year health science major, Lakin Connor shared her experiences, “I have not been tested for Covid-19 at USM because I do not participate in any athletics, I don’t live on campus, and all of my classes are online.”
August Thornton, a third-year theatre major with a performance track, had different thoughts on USM’s testing than Connor did. He said he does get tested weekly, yet “With the given CDC guidelines that we follow it’s more likely you’ll get the same results if you test once a week or three times a week if you’re an athlete.”
Track and field athlete and second-year media studies major, Carson Gross, participates in testing for the university and to be in compliance with the NCAA. “That being said, it seems that USM is taking the necessary precautions to ensure testing is being done in a proper and timely manner,” Gross explained.
Ian Dudley, third-year communications major with a media production focus, stated he too has only been tested by USM once because he lives off-campus. Being online-only, Dudley finds it “extremely inconvenient.” He also said, “I think getting tested and how USM has it structured is great. Availability to certain campuses as well as [limited] times is frustrating. As well as having to notify students who are off-campus or online completely the urgency to get a Covid test regularly.”
The Home – Together for Maine website notes that the all-time number of COVID-19 tests that have been administered in the UMS system is 136,015. So far in April, 5,886 tests have been recorded. In addition to testing students and faculty, the UMS conducts weekly testing on wastewater samples system-wide.
USM President, Glenn Cummings, thinks multiple factors are responsible for the increase of positive cases: “people being restricted for over a year now becoming overly confident with a vaccine on the horizon is probably the largest contributing factor. But just like in all things, it’s not how you start but how you finish.”
The administration strongly encourages students to pursue the COVID-19 vaccination. They are currently working to make the vaccine more accessible for students, since as of April 7th Maine residents over the age of sixteen are eligible for the vaccine. They hope to have announcements in the near future regarding any developments.
Recently, President Cummings had the opportunity to be vaccinated by USM nursing students. His hope is by sharing his experience with being vaccinated will encourage others to do the same. “The vaccine is hope that there is an end in sight, that a return to normal is possible. I believe Dr. Nirav Shah, head of Maine’s CDC said it best: ‘We talk a lot about the light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are our vehicle out of that tunnel,’” noted Cummings.
President Cummings confessed his anticipation for a more traditional fall, stating, “We will be returning to natural occupancy in our Residence Halls, at least 70% of our learning experiences will be in-person, and our campuses will be revitalized. I undoubtedly believe that we are on track for an exciting Fall 2021.”
Gratitude for their efforts in leading testing and COVID-19 response goes to Lisa Belanger and Anna Schwartz, President Cummings said. Being in the most populated area of Maine, along with other factors, made it clear the university was in for a challenge combatting the virus. “To look around the country a year later I would not trade our response and outcome with any other campus nationwide.”