ORONO — No cases of COVID-19 were found in the University of Maine System’s first round of random sampling, university officials announced Saturday morning.
The University of Maine System tested 704 students and employees in its first ten-day round of random sampling in its Phase Three monitoring.
More than 1,900 tests were conducted by the University System during the 10 day testing period as a result of the random sampling, directed testing, and the amplified response to epidemiological concerns in York County which included 864 tests at the University of Southern Maine.
All of the asymptomatic tests results that have been received in the 10 day round one testing period one have been negative for COVID-19, per a news release.
The System will conduct several more rounds of sampling every 10 days until the Thanksgiving-break transition to distance instruction.
The University of Maine System’s multi-faceted approach to identifying COVID-19 infection and limiting spread on university campuses and in Maine communities includes, per the release, weekly wastewater sampling for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Samples collected over several weeks at UMaine, UMFK, and the Gorham campus of USM have all been negative.
The University's own faculty scientists and students, including in conjunction with the Wheeler Lab at the University of Maine, are now monitoring campus wastewater streams at three campuses statewide, producing rapid findings to help inform the University's ongoing response to the pandemic and consulting with others to assist them with their own response, the release stated.
Positivity and Round One prevalence rates established by scientific advisory board
The University of Maine System Scientific Advisory Board Chaired by President Joan Ferrini-Mundy has reviewed the results of round one sampling. The testing of randomly selected individuals supports an inference with 95% confidence that the University System has a prevalence rate of no more than 0.17%. That suggests fewer than two infected individuals per thousand university community members.
The Advisory Board also assessed the positivity rate based on arrival screening. The entry level positivity rate across 14,809 tests conducted by the University of Maine System at the start of the fall semester was approximately 0.09% and the current positivity rate from the first round of random testing is 0%. As a comparison, the current positivity rate in Maine overall is approximately 0.5% and the current national positivity rate is estimated at a much higher rate of approximately 5.0%.
“The strong participation at all of our campuses during the Phase 1 (arrival) and Phase 2 (follow-up) screening at the start of the semester established a baseline and identified positive cases that were isolated and traced for contacts who were quarantined to contain the virus,” said UMaine Virologist Melissa Maginnis, the lead of the UMS Scientific Advisory Board.
“The first round of the Phase 3 sampling combined with the amplified testing in Southern Maine is a first step to check on our status,” continued Maginnis. “The efforts the campuses are making to meet our sampling targets in subsequent rounds are essential to our plans for monitoring COVID-19 throughout the rest of the semester.”
University commits to greater participation in subsequent rounds
The University of Maine System randomly identifies 1,500 community members involved in on-campus activities to participate in asymptomatic tests for COVID-19 in each ten-day round with an objective of analyzing results from at least 1,000 tests to monitor for infection. The University System is now in round two of sampling and is taking a number of steps to increase the number of random samples collected for analysis.
“We are off to a great start but we still have nine weeks of in-person instruction left to go in the semester,” said Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “We can’t let up now with our screening, our safety practices, and our pledges to each other if we want to keep COVID-19 contained on our campuses and in our communities.”
Chancellor Malloy launched his ‘Keep it Up’ campus tour on September 22 and 23 with visits to UMFK and UMPI that will include stops at each campus. The Chancellor and UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy will both be tested for COVID-19 along with students, faculty, and staff in Orono on Wednesday, September 30.
Steps the University of Maine System and its universities are taking to increase engagement with the required random sampling include:
Mandatory Participation Message: The University of Maine System is both thanking its community for ralling together for safety while also making it clear that participation in its sampling for COVID-19 is required for students, faculty, and staff involved in campus-based activities. In a September 22, 2020 message to bargaining unit leaders Chancellor Malloy emphasized that the University of Maine System, “must require testing for all university community members selected in our Phase 3 testing program going forward.”
The University System has also called on campus leaders to exert maximal effort to make sure those selected for testing are able to test, outlined available exemptions to testing, and reminded the community how existing enforcement and disciplinary procedures may be applied if a student or employee intentionally refuses to test.
Narrowing and Refining Invitation Pools: The safe return planning for the Fall 2020 semester included the development of instructional and workplace options to reduce the number of students and employees in campus classrooms and buildings. Flexibility has also been provided to help community members overcome pandemic challenges in their personal or family lives. The University System will be monitoring and refining its testing pools throughout the Phase 3 random sampling to focus on community members participating in campus-based activities and to ensure the validity of results.
More Testing Options and More Testing Messages: Testing and university leaders across the University System are expanding testing options and their outreach to students, faculty, and staff to increase participation in subsequent rounds of screening.
UMS: The University of Maine System is working with testing partner Vault Health to provide participants with additional flexibility for scheduling a saliva-based test for COVID-19.
UMA: The University of Maine at Augusta made testing available at 13 different campus and center locations, including student housing in Hallowell.
UMaine: The University of Maine is partnering with the Collins Center for the Arts to use its electronic ticketing system to invite students to testing dates.
UMF: The University of Maine at Farmington is offering a twelve-hour testing window on testing days (7am - 7pm) with self-selected appointments for 20 people every 20 minutes. A make-up day of testing from 8am to noon with no appointment needed will be offered on the following day. A blackboard alert is being sent to students that did not show up to testing to remind them that they need to be tested within the ten-day period. UMF is using administratively directed tests to test more students in the dorms to capture on campus students
UMFK: The University of Maine at Fort Kent will have scheduled testing dates during each round of Phase 3 and will also give those selected to test the opportunity to schedule individual testing appointments to accommodate their schedule. All students who participate will receive 1,000 Paw Points, which can be redeemed for prizes at the end of the semester and will also be entered into a drawing for a UMFK gift pack to be awarded after the last testing date.
UMM: The University of Maine at Machias allows flexibility to those students who might have child care challenges by giving the students the opportunity to test in their car. In addition, UMM is offering early morning and evening hours.
UMPI: The University of Maine at Presque Isle will be offering an expanded testing schedule with high flexibility to accommodate community members. This includes multiple drop-in testing dates for each round and an opportunity to schedule individual appointments as needed if scheduled testing times do not work with the availability of participants.
USM: The University of Southern Maine is expanding testing to its Portland and Lewiston-Auburn campuses, and offering expanded Vault testing (saliva-based) options. Steps include: reminder emails to test participants, real time email response to inquiries and requests for testing alternatives, social media reminders, partnerships with Residential Life and Athletics, Healthy Huskies campus-wide messaging on upcoming testing, Monday Missive to include reminder from the President with regard to testing events and messages from the University Health Director.
Maine Law: The University of Maine School of Law provides testing to its students, faculty and staff five days a week via the Vault, saliva-based test. Maine Law has also implemented a robust amplified testing protocol for its students and faculty who participate in direct client representation.