The University of New England says classes for its 3,750 or so students will go ahead on campus this fall.
Faculty, staff and health experts believe the school will be able to hold in-person classes as soon as this summer if proper safety precautions are taken at UNE’s campuses in Biddeford and Portland, according to the school’s president, Dr. James Herbert.
“We immediately started planning for reopening as soon as we had to start closing our campus down,” said Herbert, adding, “it’ll take some getting used to for everyone.”
With buildings almost completely devoid of people, the school is already installing plexiglass shields at service counters and is training staff to use special sanitizing machines that spray an electrolyte-mineral mixture on surfaces.
The technique would be used to clean places like classrooms in minutes so the students coming in have less of a chance of contracting the deadly new coronavirus from someone sitting ahead of them.
UNE will also mandate wearing masks, apply social distancing throughout its facilities and plans to develop its own testing and contact tracing units on campus.
It will even set aside a dorm to isolate those who are COVID-19-positive or are suspected of being so. If a student has to be moved there, UNE will move them onto an online learning platform to continue classwork with what it hopes will be minimal interruption.
“A student can transition seamlessly to that remote learning,” Herbert said.
UNE administration says faculty and students believe in-person learning on campus is best and many in its community believe Maine’s relatively low COVID-19 case count -- 1,741 cases and 73 deaths as of Tuesday -- will work in its favor, along with the school’s experience in science and medicine as well as its lack of a dense, compact campus.
Still, the concern about an outbreak is real and school leaders expect that to be the case for the foreseeable future, which is why the plan could very well change at any point to adapt to the pandemic.
“If we can anticipate all the possibilities and plan for each one, that helps alleviate those worries,” Herbert said.
“It would be disingenuous of me to say that I don’t worry.”