WATERVILLE — Colby College is ramping up its coronavirus testing program as its 1,500 students returned to campus this month, with 22 students testing positive since the winter break.

Additionally, five faculty members have tested positive, and 67 students are currently in quarantine, according to Colby officials.

“Similar to the increase in COVID-19 prevalence nationwide and in Maine, Colby has been expecting and planning for more positive cases especially at the start of the Jan Plan term,” Colby officials wrote in a prepared statement. “This environment has led to enhancing and expanding some of our already rigorous safety protocols, as well as increasing efforts to ensure every community member is especially vigilant in maintaining key safety measures.”

In a community note sent Sunday, Karlene Burrell-McRae, dean of the college, wrote that patterns had emerged as Colby analyzed the uptick in cases, apparently from the result of student-to-student transmission.

OFFICIAL MESSAGE: Protocol Changes Due to COVID-19 Prevalence

“While some of the cases came through travel to campus, there is evidence to indicate that the majority of the recent transmission has occurred through contact in dining halls and residence halls — primarily students leaving masks off after they’ve finished eating and gathering in rooms or lounges without wearing masks or distancing,” Burrell-McRae wrote. “Several students needed to be quarantined as close contacts, and others were infected because masking and distancing guidelines were not being followed.”

The main protocol that has been expanded at Colby is the addition of rapid antigen testing.

“Colby has implemented additional health and safety protocols intended to improve the ability to keep our community as safe as possible over the next several months including Waterville,” the college statement read. “Chief among them is having rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that can be used as a screening tool and that supplement our PCR tests.”

Effective this week, the college also stipulated students would have access only to their own residence halls, and all lounges and other residence hall common spaces are closed. All meals will now be grab-and-go, and students have been strongly encouraged to limit unnecessary travel off campus this week.

The college, which enrolls about 2,000 students, created a $10 million health plan to bring students back to campus last fall for in-person instruction amid the pandemic.

During the fall semester, Colby tested all students, faculty and staff three times a week during the first two weeks of the semester, and continued testing all twice a week while promoting social distancing and good hygiene practices.

The college will test its faculty, students and staff three times a week for at least the next three months, Colby officials said, noting they also complete a daily symptom tracker and must wear face coverings when inside campus buildings. 

To help limit gatherings, Colby students currently have access only to their own residence halls and lounge areas. All meals from the dining all are made to go, and students have been asked to limit unnecessary off-campus travel.

“As it did for students returning to campus for the January term, Colby is requiring students who are not yet at school to do pretests for COVID-19 (which the College is providing) and submit negative results before the official start of spring semester,” college officials said. “Colby’s proactive testing, contact tracing and safety protocols are doing exactly what they’re intended to do — quickly identifying positive cases and isolating the virus before it has the chance to spread.”      

Meanwhile, Thomas College on West River Road has administered 755 COVID-19 tests, with one student testing positive. The college began bringing students back to campus last week and has resumed its testing protocol from the fall semester.

“We are testing everyone twice a week,” Mackenzie Riley-Young, Thomas’ communications director, wrote in an email. 

The testing includes faculty members, students and staff members, including the more “hands-on” staff members, such as food service workers and full-time security guards.

Since August, Thomas has dealt with nine cases of COVID-19 and administered 13,999 tests, according to college officials.

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