A pedestrian walks past a piece of art titled, “You Can’t Unsee,” by artist Ryan Adams in the window of Space in downtown Portland on Aug. 31. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

York County remains the hotspot of COVID-19 infection in Maine, with 11 new cases Wednesday among the 25 reported statewide, prompting another southern Maine college to beef up its testing program to protect students and staff.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention also reported an outbreak of four cases Wednesday at Elks Lodge 1470 in Sanford, where the state is already investigating outbreaks at four other social clubs.

“Investigations of epidemiological links is ongoing, as some individuals went to more than one of the clubs for which outbreak investigations have been opened,” Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said in an email.

In response to the conditions in York County, the University of New England announced additional testing measures on its Biddeford and Portland campuses.

“We are asking any students who have found themselves in a situation in which they might have been at higher risk for contracting the virus to voluntarily go to the Student Health Center on either campus to be tested. The tests will be free of charge, and all students – undergraduate and graduate – are encouraged to take advantage of this resource without repercussions,” UNE President James Herbert said in a letter to the university community.

The examples include attending any gathering – such as a party, religious services or other social event – where masking or physical distancing was not consistently maintained, travel to states that require a COVID-19 test upon return to Maine, and close contact with someone who could be COVID-19 positive.

“Students who volunteer for such testing will be granted immunity from any potential conduct violations related to the activity that puts them at increased risk,” Herbert wrote.

UNE’s approach differs from the disciplinary actions many colleges are taking when students violate pandemic protocols.

Sarah Delage, UNE spokeswoman, said there is currently one active case of a student with COVID-19, and that the student “is likely to have contracted the virus out of state.”

UNE’s announcement comes a day after the University of Maine System said it would do additional testing and screening at its schools in southern Maine, including 400 tests at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland and Gorham campuses, and at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.

The University of Maine System reported no active cases Tuesday. Testing and screening of students as they returned to campus in August resulted in 13 positive tests out of nearly 15,000 tests given.

Meanwhile, at St. Joseph’s College of Maine in Standish, nine cases of COVID-19 were reported over the weekend. Students are being told to “study in place” and remain in their rooms as much as possible over at least the next two weeks, and classes will be conducted remotely. College officials did not respond to messages Wednesday asking about an update on the COVID-19 cases.

The daily case numbers Wednesday from the Maine CDC also include one death.

The death was announced Tuesday by Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, as being one of the seven deaths associated with an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Millinocket area. Six of those who died lived at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison, and all of the deaths were secondary infections. None of the people who died attended the wedding or the reception.

Shah expressed concerns about worsening infection trends on Tuesday, especially in York County, the site of several outbreaks. The seven-day average of daily new cases has increased from 25 on Sept. 8 to 30.2 on Tuesday.

The case counts at Sanford social clubs were updated Wednesday by the Maine CDC and now stand at 12 cases at American Legion Post 19, eight cases at the Amvets post, 10 cases at the Lafayette Social Club and 10 cases at Sanford Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Although the number of active cases statewide dipped from 501 on Tuesday to 496 on Wednesday, active cases overall have been trending higher, up from 423 on Sept. 8. Since the pandemic began, there have been 4,941 cases of COVID-19 in Maine and 138 deaths.

The super-spreading event emanating from the wedding and reception in the Millinocket area on Aug. 7 has now sickened 176 people across the state, including a major outbreak at the York County Jail. The pastor who officiated the wedding, Todd Bell, is the pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, where 10 people have contracted COVID-19, although the Maine CDC has not established an epidemiological link between the wedding and the outbreak at the Sanford church.

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