Fearing the spread of omicron, Bates College imposes new COVID-19 restrictions

Chairs set up outside Bates College to help encourage social distancing between students. Steve Collins / Journal of the Sun

LEWISTON – In response to a rapidly spreading variant of COVID-19, Bates College said on Wednesday it was going to crack down on campus in an attempt to limit the impact of the highly contagious omicron strain.

Geoffrey Swift, vice president of finance and administration, told students and staff that the new policies include a more stringent approach “for initial testing upon return of students, recall requirements for students, and return. at “grap and go Dining” which was in place during the last academic year, but not during the fall semester.

Joshua McIntosh, vice president of campus life, told students that “one of the most vulnerable times for the college community will be students returning to campus and managing the early days.”

As a result, at least the first few days of classes will be done remotely despite the presence of most students on campus.

“We plan to resume in-person classes as soon as campus conditions allow, which we hope will be early in the semester,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh raised the possibility, however, that conditions could make a return to near-normal operations impossible.

“There remains a lot of uncertainty about the evolution of the pandemic in the weeks and months to come,” he said in a message to the students. “Our intention is to offer in-person classes and to continue to support extracurricular activities, making accommodations as needed, in the interest of the health and well-being of our community.”

“However, it is important to note that we may need to switch to distance learning at certain times during the semester to alleviate the transmission of the virus and manage new cases of infection,” he said. . “We want to make sure that students understand these eventualities and feel free to make alternative plans. “

Other policy changes in sight at Bates include a ban on guests and visitors to the campus building, including participation in sporting events, musical performances and art exhibitions.

Even teachers and staff will not be allowed to exercise at Bates sports facilities.

“Our goal is to maintain the protective layers of public health – particularly vaccination, testing, indoor masking and limitations from outside visitors,” Swift said.

Bates has sought to fend off serious outbreaks of COVID-19 that could threaten to shut the campus down and send students home to study remotely, which happened in March 2020 when the pandemic first struck.

Since the students returned to Lewiston for that year’s fall semester, the college has conducted extensive testing, imposed vaccination requirements on students, and relied on a multitude of rules regarding masking, distancing and travel which changed as the disease increased and decreased.

Despite this, at least 45 Bates students have tested positive for COVID-19 at some point during the fall semester, along with more than two dozen faculty or staff. The school has more than 1,800 students and more than 900 employees.

Swift said in her post on Wednesday that omicron, which has more than doubled the average number of new cases in less than two weeks, is “considerably more transmissible than the delta variant” seen in recent months, even for people considered completely vaccinated.

Getting a booster, which students must do when eligible, “offers protection both against initial infection and strong protection against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death,” Swift said.

Swift said that omicron presents “new challenges for residential environments, where students live in collective housing and eat together.”

“As a result, we need to take a more stringent approach to student arrival tests and the integration period for winter semester students in January,” he said, to “help us understand our baseline situation and limit the level of COVID-19 transmission on campus “.

“One of the most effective strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 is knowing when you have the disease so that you can limit your contact with others. Therefore, employees are strongly encouraged to test regularly – once a week for those who are on campus frequently, ”added Swift.

Bates is setting up test times and dates for employees at its offshore testing center at the Muskie Archives.

The college is leaving in place the rule that Bates students and staff, regardless of their immunization status, must wear masks indoors, except when eating at a college-sponsored event or at a private space.


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