By: Riley Mayes, Web Editor
On January 12, 2022, Residential Life released an update on its dorm policies in light of the Omicron variant and increasing Covid-19 cases in the state of Maine.
The Spring semester kicked off with a carefully constructed move-in plan: each student was allowed one helper to move them into their rooms for one hour. Students were then tested and quarantined overnight while they waited for their results. For the first week, traveling between halls was prohibited and dining halls were open for grab-and-go meals only.
These policies were designed in collaboration with the UMS Science Advisory Board, a committee of professors, consultants and health professionals established at the beginning of the pandemic. This board meets twice weekly with the UMS Planning Committee to assess emerging scientific and medical data as it pertains to the university system. Health Services, the Dean of Students and Res Life have also played a critical role in designing policies to limit the spread of Covid-19 and support traceability on campus.
Christina Lowery, the Director of Housing and Res Life at USM, said that the updated policies have proven to be effective thus far.
“It’s going remarkably well. Cases have been light and manageable,” she said. “I credit the students with this who have had great compliance with entry testing and quarantining.”
Lowery also reported, many students chose to get tested prior to returning to campus, making for a smoother transition on move-in day. Additionally, students who were able to do so elected to quarantine or isolate at home if necessary. This has ensured the university’s ability to accommodate students who do not have a place to go should they need to quarantine or isolate by freeing up space on campus. These students will receive dorm accommodations, three meals a day and access to health services should they have any questions or concerns.
However, some students have expressed concerns regarding the new policies. Kerrighan Kijak, a residential student at USM, described her difficulty adjusting to college in the era of Covid-19.
“I feel like I cannot breathe around other people without getting a suspicious look,” she said. “The policies are simple rules, but being cooped up in my dorm all day without my non-residential friends can be very isolating.”
Kijak also reported the strain of not being able to see off-campus guests. While this regulation was lifted in the fall semester of last year, Res Life is enforcing it again as part of its new policies.
“My roommates and I all have partners from another state so we rely on them to come up a few times during the semester in order to see them. It is a bit frustrating that the dorm policies in the past did not allow us to have outside guests,” she said.
Stricter dorm policies have also meant more time spent alone and on a screen for some students, particularly because the first two weeks of classes have taken place on Zoom.
“I am mentally drained from sitting in a few spaces, in my dorm, staring at a screen all day long,” Kijak said. “I cannot leave my door open like freshman year because people may walk by and catch covid, I cannot stand in my doorway and talk to people down the hall because they might catch covid. It is just tiring.”
If positivity rates continue to be low on campus, Res Life plans to gradually lift some of the dorm restrictions. For example, the smooth transition during the first week enabled Res Life to allow inter-dorm traveling as of Monday, January 24. Additionally, if rates remain low and booster percentages rise, Res Life has stated its plan to reevaluate reopening campus to off-campus guests.
Besides masking up and following USM policy, Lowery stated that the best shot at reducing dorm restrictions and ensuring campus safety is to get boosted.
“Boosters are the best protection against Omicron right now,” she said. “To protect both your health and the stability of your educational experience.”
USM will be having a booster clinic on February 8 on the Gorham campus, but you can also access a list of Maine booster clinics on the Maine.gov website. For the latest information on dorm policies, visit the Res Life website page.