The University of Maine black bear outside of Memorial Gym is decorated in a blue mask on Monday, the first day of students moving into dorms. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

One University of Maine student has been suspended and seven others have been disciplined after they didn’t follow social distancing rules at parties, the university’s dean of students said Tuesday.

The seven other students were placed on deferred suspension, which means that further violations of the student conduct code will lead to them being suspended, said Dean of Students Robert Dana.

None of the four positive COVID-19 cases that have been detected at UMaine so far have been linked to the student gatherings the eight students attended, Dana said.

The crackdown on student gatherings comes as UMaine prepares for the start of the fall semester next week, during which the university is implementing a number of measures meant to keep the coronavirus from spreading as students return to campus.

Student parties and large gatherings have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks all over the country, and UMaine students and Orono residents have recently expressed concern about the potential for the coronavirus to spread.

The University of Maine System announced last week that students would face disciplinary action, including suspension, if they hosted large gatherings or failed to follow safety protocols such as social distancing at parties.

The eight people the university cited attended three or four different parties, said Dana, who didn’t specify whether the gatherings took place on or off campus.

State coronavirus restrictions limit indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor events to 100 people. In either setting, the state requires that there be sufficient space for those in attendance to keep 6 feet of distance between them.

“Students need to understand that just a few guests in an apartment or at a house party can exceed state group-size limitations,” said Dan Demeritt, spokesperson for the university system. “We are counting on everyone to plan and behave responsibly.”

The student who was suspended had other “extenuating circumstances” that contributed to his suspension besides the gathering that violated the updated student conduct code, Dana said.

The student was at a party with about seven other people, the university found.

“It wasn’t a huge gathering or anything like that,” Dana said. “But it was a number of people at a party not social distancing.”

UMaine administrators are expecting students to take the restrictions on social gatherings both on and off campus seriously for the sake of the campus community’s safety, Dana said.

“We delivered a letter to all students today reminding them that parties in particular are unsafe and they should not participate,” Dana said. “There’s prevention and expectation, but also enforcement. And I want students to actually find comfort in that.”