Signs at the entrance of the University of Maine urge visitors to wear masks during the pandemic on July 1, 2020. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / Penobscot Times

Maine’s public universities are canceling fall and spring breaks this academic year and restricting out-of-state travel for students as part of an effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading on campus. They’ll also reduce fall room and board costs for students living in university residence halls.

The University of Maine System said Thursday that it’s canceled its customary fall break around Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the weeklong spring break that typically happens in March. Without those breaks, according to the university system, there’s a smaller chance students will travel outside of Maine and return to campus, potentially infected with COVID-19.

“We don’t want to have large windows of time when campus is empty for everyone to go home and come back,” said University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt.

The cancellation of the breaks is one of a number of changes to the academic calendar this year, as the state’s public universities prepare to welcome students back on campus later this month. The university system said earlier this summer that students won’t return to campus after Thanksgiving and will instead finish their fall classes remotely.

In addition, they’ll have a winter break that’s a week longer than normal, making up for the loss of spring break, which will be reduced to a single day in March.

The measures are among a number of changes the university system has rolled out for the coming school year for its approximately 30,000 students. On campus, students will experience smaller class sizes and be required to wear masks. In addition, many students — including those living on campus and those from out of state — will have to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arriving on campus. They’ll have to quarantine until they can show a negative test result. Those approximately 12,500 students will go through two rounds of testing.

The University of Maine System is putting the precautionary measures in place as a number of universities across the country cancel plans altogether for students to return in person as virus cases surge in much of the country.

The system is also reducing the room and board rate for the fall semester by 20 percent, since students will study remotely for the last fifth of the semester. For the university system, that means a second semester in a row when it won’t collect full room and board revenues. The system refunded 46 percent of room and board fees last semester to the 5,500 students living in residence halls when universities shifted to remote learning in March. That refund amounted to a $12.85 million loss for the university system.

In addition to the canceled fall and spring breaks, Maine’s public universities will cancel all system-sponsored travel outside the state this year, unless university leaders and a risk assessment team grant special permission, Demeritt said.

The system is also discouraging students, staff and faculty members from traveling outside of Maine for personal reasons this year. Anyone who does travel out of state will be expected to follow the state’s quarantine and testing requirements when they return.

Demeritt said while he hopes everyone will comply with the travel restrictions, the system can enforce them through the student and employee codes of conduct.

“We want people to adhere to the spirit of the guidelines, and if there’s behavior that runs afoul of the common-sense protections, then student affairs or human resources could get involved at that point,” he said.