Students walk past the Campus Center wearing masks at the University of New England in Biddeford in August 2020. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Maine colleges and universities are doing away with many COVID-19 prevention measures, even as new and highly contagious variants of coronavirus drive case counts and hospitalizations well above those experienced in the past two summers.

Experts say they understand that most people want to be done with COVID, but that the virus is still here and still dangerous.

In a shift in policy from last year, the University of Maine School System will not require booster shots at any of its seven campuses. The system also has no plans to limit the number of people allowed in certain spaces during the fall semester and has discontinued asymptomatic testing – weekly testing of unvaccinated community members. As of the end of the spring 2022 term, the system had approved 1,108 vaccine exemptions.

Masks, however, will continue to be required in classrooms, offices, health facilities and similar spaces except when waived by the appropriate faculty or staff member. Additionally, the system plans to continue monitoring levels of the virus through sewage testing and maintain its relationship with a PCR testing company so that it has the capacity to do large-scale testing if necessary. Also, around 40 percent of system courses will have a remote option.

UMaine Chancellor Dannel Malloy said in early July that the protocols follow the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College Health Association.

The CDC’s latest guidance recommends that “all faculty, staff, and students be vaccinated as soon as possible and remain up to date in their vaccinations, including receiving a booster when eligible.”


The UMaine System said its policy aligns with that recommendation because of its “strong encouragement,” that everyone get a booster shot.

The Maine Community College System has less stringent vaccine policies for students than the UMaine System.

At all seven campuses students must provide proof of only one COVID shot prior to starting  in-person fall semester classes and proof of a second shot prior to starting the following semester or else must comply with weekly COVID testing. Boosters are not required, but are “strongly recommended.”

Boosters were required for students during the 2021-2022 school year.

Bates College students hang out in the quad at the Lewiston college in August of 2020. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The system is still negotiating faculty and staff COVID policies with its employee unions.

The relaxation of COVID policies by Maine’s public institutions of higher education come as experts say boosters provide an important layer of protection against COVID as vaccine effectiveness dwindles.


“Waning antibody levels have been observed over time, so boosters are valuable in ensuring continued protection,” wrote the American College Health Association in its July COVID guidelines.

At least some of Maine’s private colleges are maintaining stricter COVID policies than the state’s public schools. But they are also removing rules aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Bates College in Lewiston last month discontinued asymptomatic employee testing, made masking optional in indoor and outdoor spaces and opened its dining halls up to visitors as long as they are vaccinated or can provide a recent negative COVID test.

The college is however requiring students to be vaccinated and boosted and for employees to disclose their vaccination status.

At Bowdoin College in Brunswick, vaccinations and boosters are required for students, faculty and staff. But the school has made masks optional in most locations on the campus and lifted COVID-related capacity limits for campus spaces.

The loosening of restrictions by Maine schools mirrors a national pattern of less aggressive responses to the latest COVID wave. Almost two and a half years into the pandemic, signs point to a diminished tolerance for COVID protocols.


Other institutions of higher education as well as cities have dropped mask mandates. There is no longer a national mandate requiring masking in airports or on public transit, and COVID funding that could provide money for vaccines and other treatments has been stalled in Congress for months.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser on the virus, said at a White House news briefing last week that although we need to deal with COVID, “we should not let it disrupt our lives,” a different message than he has given for most of the pandemic.

Although she didn’t directly criticize institutions of higher education for adopting more lenient COVID policies, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth and a former Maine CDC director, said it’s important to stay vigilant in the fight against COVID.

“The tough news nobody wants to hear is that COVID isn’t done with us yet,” said Mills, who said personally she’s more worried about long COVID than acute COVID.

Mills said that when fall comes, schools reconvene and people start gathering indoors more often again, it’s important to think about pulling out different layers of protection to use against COVID: masking, ventilation, filtration, testing and treatment.

Mills said she’s starting to be more diligent about masking again – masking in stores and other crowded places. Masking is more important than ever because BA.5 has high immune evasion, she said.

“A viral pandemic is like a fire,” she said. “Different layers of protection are like pouring water on that fire. Right now, the pandemic is roaring around the world so you can’t put it out easily, but the more water you put on it the more protected we all are.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.