Dec. 29: Student Update: Winter Semester Plans

Dear Students,

I write today to provide you with an update. It is important that you read the entirety of this message as there are things you need to know and do before you consider a return to campus in January.

In December, you likely read about a number of colleges with very high vaccination rates (>95%) experiencing large outbreaks on their campuses, and some sent students home, closed their campuses, and switched to remote learning. The omicron variant was identified in a significant number of the cases, and the vast majority of positive cases occurred in vaccinated individuals. I share this with you to illustrate the ongoing complexity and uncertainty associated with operating a residential college during this pandemic. 

As you are aware from the news and experiences over the break, the highly contagious omicron variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19 for new cases in the United States. The daily average number of COVID-19 new cases nationally has increased by 126% over the past two weeks. We still have much to learn about omicron, but it is clear that it is considerably more transmissible than the delta variant, even for those who have received their initial series of two shots. When added to the initial vaccination series, a booster shot offers protection against both initial infection and strong protection against severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death.

The particular characteristics of omicron present new challenges for residential settings, where people live in congregate housing and eat together. Accordingly, we must take a more stringent approach to the winter semester’s arrival testing and onboarding period in January. This plan will help us understand our baseline situation and limit the level of COVID-19 transmission on campus. Our goal is to maintain the layers of public health protection – particularly vaccination, testing, indoor masking, and limitations on outside visitors. Outlined below are the specific policies and plans. 

COVID-19 Testing

One of the most effective strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is to know when you have the disease so that you can limit your contact with others. With this in mind, all students need to do the following:

Pre-Arrival Testing – All students should test for COVID-19 within 48 hours of departure to travel back to campus. If you are unsure of where to secure a test in your area, this website may be helpful

Arrival Testing – Upon arrival to campus, all students must first go to Muskie Archives, located across the street from the Bates College Store, to receive a rapid antigen test. Students must also present a digital image or hard copy of their COVID-19 vaccination card with proof of the booster shot at Muskie for verification (see below for more details). As previously shared, all students can schedule their arrival testing time through Garnet Gateway until Dec. 31.

Additional Baseline Testing – In addition to arrival testing, which will occur from Sunday, Jan. 9 to Tuesday, Jan. 11, all students must test on Thursday, Jan. 13 and again on Friday, Jan. 14. During the week of Jan. 3, you will receive an email from the COVID-19 Testing Center team with directions on how to sign up for testing times in Garnet Gateway.

Ongoing Testing – The college will require all students to test two times per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning the week of Jan. 17, until further notice. During the week of Jan. 3, you will receive an email from the COVID-19 Testing Center team with directions on how to sign up for testing times in Garnet Gateway.

If you have questions about COVID-19 testing, please direct them to the COVID-19 Testing Center team at testingcenter@bates.edu. The COVID-19 Testing Center team will begin responding to these inquiries when the college reopens on Jan. 3.

Students Who Test Positive on a Pre-Arrival COVID-19 Test

If a student tests positive for COVID-19 on the pre-arrival test, the student should not travel to Bates and should take the following steps:

  • If the test was taken at a pharmacy or with a medical provider, send a contact phone number and documentation of the positive test result to Brenna Callahan at Bates Health Services at healthservices@bates.edu.
  • If the test was an at-home test, please send documentation of the positive test result to Brenna Callahan at Bates Health Services at healthservices@bates.edu. Please include (1) a photo of the test, (2) the type of test, (3) test expiration date, (4) the date and time of your test, (5) the number of minutes it took for the test to return a positive result, and (6) the best phone number to reach you.
  • After receiving the email, Brenna will be in touch to assist with your late arrival plans.
Booster Verification Upon Return to Campus

All students must have the COVID-19 booster shot as soon as eligible. Students must present a digital image or hard copy of their COVID-19 vaccination card upon arrival at Muskie Archives for COVID-19 testing and check-in. A staff member will verify whether you are eligible for a booster and have received it. If you are eligible and have not received a booster, you will be required to get a booster shot on Tuesday, Jan. 11 or Wednesday, Jan. 12 at the Auburn, Maine vaccination clinic. If you are not yet eligible for the booster shot, the staff member at the booster verification table in Muskie will make a note of when you become eligible, and Health Services will follow-up with you at that time. 

If you are unwilling to get a booster shot, you are not permitted to return to campus and you should request a leave of absence (see below for more details). The only students not required to get a booster shot are those with medical exemptions that have been authorized in advance of returning to campus. You can learn more about how to request a medical exemption here

A relatively small number of students remained on campus during the winter break, and some student-athletes returned to campus early to participate in winter season athletics. Those students already in residence must go to Muskie Archives between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Jan. 9 or 10 with their COVID-19 vaccination card to have it reviewed and verified. 

Students who do not present their COVID-19 vaccination card at Muskie Archives before the beginning of classes or choose not to get the COVID-19 booster once eligible will be unenrolled from courses and placed on a leave of absence for the Winter 2022 semester and Short Term 2022. In addition, as this is a violation of the Public Health Agreement, such students will be referred to the Student Conduct Committee.

Please refer to the booster shot FAQs and direct all questions related to the booster shot to Brenna Callahan at Bates Health Services at healthservices@bates.edu. Brenna will begin responding to these inquiries when the college reopens on Jan. 3.

Public Health Policies

One of the more vulnerable times for the college community will be during student arrival back to campus and managing through the first several days. As such, we need to take a more cautious approach to the baseline testing and onboarding period as we begin the winter semester than we did in the fall. I want to highlight the public health policies developed in consultation with the college’s clinical and public health advisors that will remain in place from last semester and outline additional precautions required through at least the onboarding period of the winter semester. 

  • Students must be masked when indoors. The limited exceptions to this requirement, where you do not need to wear a mask, include:
    • When in your own room in your residence hall with no student visitors; and
    • When actively participating in competition in indoor athletic events (e.g., on the court) [Note: Winter season student-athletes competing during the onboarding period will be tested three times before a competition.] 
  • Commons will be operating as a self-serve “grab-n-go” dining program. Students will pick up meals in Commons and return to their residence hall room to eat. Please reference the DCCE website for specific dining details and direct all questions related to diningfood@groups.bates.edu 
  • Universal residential card access will be suspended and students may only be in their own residence hall. 
  • Social programming on campus will be remote. 
  • Recreation (e.g., working out) and athletics practices and competitions will continue, but only Bates students, faculty, and staff may be spectators (see below). Please remember that masks are required in all athletic facilities, including Merrill and Underhill.
  • Only Bates students, faculty, staff, and vendors may enter buildings on campus. Guests and visitors may not be in campus buildings until further notice. This limitation includes audience members for musical performances, theater and dance productions, and art exhibits, as well as spectators at athletic events.
  • In-person community engagement programs are likely to have some restrictions as the local vaccination rate remains relatively low and new cases of infection remain high. More details will be forthcoming.
  • Minimize your time off-campus, doing only what is absolutely necessary, e.g.,  groceries, pharmacy, medical appointments.

In outlining this more cautious approach to the start of the semester, we are not setting norms for the entire semester. Our goal has been, and remains, to have as much of the student experience in-person, and we will continue to adjust our public health policies as we manage through the omicron variant. We hope to be in a position to ease some of these public health measures, including seated dining in Commons, social programming, and inter-residence hall access, as early in the semester as possible. However, students who elect to return to campus for the winter semester should do so with the understanding that these, and additional, public health measures may need to remain in place for some time as we navigate this latest variant. 

Housing Considerations 

Our goal is to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 on the Bates campus. With the infectiousness of the omicron variant across the United States and students’ return to campus to live in congregate housing, COVID-19 may disrupt winter semester plans for some students, especially those with roommates. For example, there may come a point when we could face a significant number of cases of COVID-19 on campus with limited options to relocate students due to high transmission. This scenario may exhaust our ability to individually isolate students who test positive for COVID-19 on our campus.

If we exceed the capacity of our isolation housing, we may require the roommates of a student who has tested positive to stay with friends, move to another on-campus room, stay at a local hotel, or return home for the duration of the roommate’s isolation period. As was the case this past fall semester, students who test positive and are in a single occupancy bedroom will isolate themselves in their existing room assignment and strictly adhere to all public health protocols. Finally, students who test positive may be asked to live with other students who are also positive or may be required to move from isolation back in with their roommates if their roommate becomes positive.

Students should consider these scenarios — the possibility of elevated case counts and their effect on student housing arrangements — when deciding whether or not to return to campus for the Winter 2022 semester.

Courses

Our plan for the winter semester is to hold classes in person, with masking required, as we did in the fall semester. However, we will ask faculty to conduct their classes remotely during the baseline testing and onboarding period. Classes on Wednesday, Jan. 12, Thursday, Jan. 13, and Friday, Jan. 14 will be held remotely. Before the first day of classes, faculty will provide students with details about what to expect for classes during these three days. We plan to return to in-person classes as soon as conditions on campus permit, which we hope will be early in the semester.

As you know, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the course of the pandemic in the weeks and months ahead. Our intention is to offer in-person classes and continue to support co-curricular activities, making adaptations, as necessary, in the interest of the health and wellbeing of our community. However, it is important to note that we may need to switch to remote learning at times during the semester to mitigate transmission of the virus and manage new cases of infection. We want to make sure that students understand these contingencies and feel free to make alternate plans.  

Requesting a Leave of Absence

We have heard from some of you that the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic and its potential impact on the student experience have caused you to consider a leave of absence. Students considering a leave of absence may learn more about it here. Please direct questions related to a leave of absence to Lisa Hardej, Associate Dean of Students, at lhardej@bates.edu. Lisa will begin responding to these inquiries when the college reopens on Monday, Jan. 3.

Assistance and Support

We understand how challenging it can be to return to campus under these conditions and with this degree of uncertainty. There are staff in a number of areas at the college who can provide support and assistance. We encourage you to utilize these resources beginning Monday, Jan 3 as needed:

Where to Direct Questions

Should you have any general questions, please email studentaffairs@bates.edu, and you will be connected to the right person to assist you. Student Affairs staff will begin responding to these inquiries when the college reopens on Monday, Jan. 3. 

I know these are not the circumstances under which any of us would like to begin the winter semester. Still, we have had remarkable success in managing through this pandemic because of your willingness to not only do the right thing for yourself but also for each other. It has required a tremendous amount of patience and flexibility from you, as well as our faculty and staff. 

Please enjoy the remaining days of the winter break, and if you have not yet received your COVID-19 booster, please be sure to do so before returning to campus.

Sincerely,

Joshua McIntosh
Vice President for Campus Life