Mar. 25—The University of New England in Biddeford is switching to online classes and ordering students to quarantine in their rooms for the next week after the college reported a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus.
The surge in positive test results for the week ending Thursday is tied to an increase in off-campus social gatherings, university spokeswoman Sarah Delage said.
"There's a lot of pandemic fatigue happening," Delage said.
Contact tracing revealed that many of the 24 undergraduate students in Biddeford who tested positive in the past week had gone to parties off campus and apparently caught the virus at those gatherings.
The 25 positive test results — the students plus one employee — were by far the most recorded in a single week on the Biddeford campus this year. The second-highest in a week was seven students and two employees in Biddeford, and three students and one employee in Portland, in late January and early February, according to figures provide by UNE.
The online classes and quarantining rules don't apply to the Portland campus, where three students and two employees tested positive during the most recent week. Delage said some Portland students — mostly medical, dental or graduate students — who need to use Biddeford facilities will be able to continue doing so, although they are being urged to limit the amount of time they are on that campus.
UNE is asking that students who opted to leave campus and quarantine at home remain there until in-person classes resume. Those are primarily students who either previously tested positive or were identified as a close contact of someone who caught the virus.
Commuter students are also being asked not to return to campus until further notice, college officials said, and on-campus dining halls are open for takeout service only. Students are to leave their rooms only to pick up food and then return immediately, the college said, and are being asked not to leave campus to buy food elsewhere or have deliveries made.
Delage said UNE will determine its next steps and announce them next Wednesday after it has a chance to review test results for the current week. She said the switch to online classes will give the university a chance to reinforce other steps designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
She said some UNE students have been vaccinated, but they are predominantly graduate, medical, nursing or dental students — who are based mostly in Portland, not Biddeford.