Jan 28: Campus Update for Students

Dear Students,

Thank you for your continued participation in our testing program and for your help as we have navigated the first few weeks of the semester together. I write today to provide you with an update and to once again ask for your assistance.

Summary of Test Results

During the past two weeks (Jan. 15 – Jan. 28), 177 students have tested positive for COVID-19 across all testing sources (on-campus COVID-19 Testing Center, Bates Health Services, off-campus testing location, self-administered test, etc.) The positivity rate (positive results as a percent of all tests taken) for the four rounds of on-campus student testing was:

Tuesday, Jan. 181.2%
Thursday, Jan. 201.9%
Tuesday, Jan. 253.7%
Thursday, Jan. 272.2%

During the past two weeks, employees have also participated in the testing program, and 28 employees tested positive for COVID-19 through the college’s testing program. 

This afternoon, we have 122 active COVID-19 cases, representing 109 students and 13 employees. This includes all students and employees who tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of the testing source (on-campus COVID-19 Testing Center, Bates Health Services, off-campus testing location, self-administered test, etc.) You can see a summary of our testing results on the COVID-19 Cases webpage. Most of the students who have tested positive have experienced mild or moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. 

Based on contact tracing, it appears that most of these student cases are the result of unmasked social gatherings, large and small. We are not aware of any cases resulting from classes, meetings, or other masked indoor events and programs on campus. Our classrooms remain some of the safest places on our campus because of the extremely high rate of vaccination, boosters, and masking. With the omicron variant, masking helps to prevent infection, and the vaccination and booster help to significantly reduce the likelihood of severe illness. 

Notwithstanding that cases are currently rising on the Bates campus, omicron elsewhere has shown a pattern of swift transmission and high numbers of cases, followed by steep declines. We very much hope that we will soon see a similar pattern here. At the moment, however, our numbers on campus have been moving in the wrong direction, and we need to increase our attention to public health safeguards to lower transmission so that we do not lose ground on the in-person student experience. 

Dining

As you know, we had hoped to return to in-person dining in Commons, beginning with brunch this Sunday, Jan. 30. I am truly disappointed to convey the news that we will need to wait at least one more week before returning to in-person dining, and students will need to continue to eat in their residence halls. This decision is informed by consultation with our clinical advisors at the Mayo Clinic, who emphasized that when cases and positivity rates have accelerated, it is not the moment to return to in-person dining, where hundreds of students gather unmasked for prolonged periods of time.

Knowing how important Commons dining is to student happiness and well-being, we will monitor the public health situation on a week-by-week basis and return to in-person dining as soon as there is a clear pattern of a downward trend in the positivity rate.

Testing

All students are still required to test each Tuesday and Thursday. If you are notified that you are in a positive pool and need to return to the COVID-19 Testing Center for an antigen test, you should not go to class, dining, or co-curricular programs until you know the result of that antigen test.

Isolation in Existing Room Assignment

We will continue to meet isolation housing guidelines provided by the CDC and our public health advisors. As our isolation housing gets closer to reaching capacity, we will return to strategies used during the baseline testing period. We will ask students who test positive and are in a single occupancy room to isolate themselves in their existing room and adhere strictly to all public health protocols. Roommates who test positive on the same day will also isolate in place.

Public Health Policies

What Remains the Same?

  • Masks continue to be required in all indoor common and public spaces, including the residence halls. (Please be mindful that we have custodial staff who work in our residence halls and residence life staff who both live and work in our residence halls. As you move around your residence halls, please be respectful of their health and well-being, as well as that of your fellow students.) 
  • Acceptable mask types continue to be: 
    • Surgical mask; 
    • KN95 mask; or
    • N95 mask.
  • Students must continue to test every Tuesday and Thursday at Muskie Archives; 
  • Indoor co-curricular activities, including social programs, may not exceed 50 participants and may not involve food or drink, as eating requires unmasking; (see limited exception below);
  • Indoor arts and athletic events may not have more than 50 audience members or spectators; (see limited exception below);
  • Only Bates students, faculty, staff, contractors, and vendors may enter buildings on campus; (see limited exception below); and
  • Students should minimize their time indoors at off-campus locations, doing only what is absolutely necessary in the community, e.g., groceries, pharmacy, medical appointments.

What Has Changed?

  • Indoor activities and events sponsored by an academic or administrative department may have up to 100 participants, audience members, or spectators as long as the size of the space can adequately accommodate this number of people without crowding; 
  • Outdoor, in-person community engagement activities may resume;
  • Students, faculty, and staff actively participating on the stage in an indoor theater, dance, or musical performance may be unmasked but must remain masked at all other times (i.e. off-stage, between sets); For productions involving singing, brass and/or woodwind instruments, there must be at least 12 feet between the front of the stage and where people are seated, which may result in some rows of seating not being used; 
  • Students actively participating in indoor athletic competition (e.g., on the track, on the court, etc.) may be unmasked while competing, but must be masked at all other times (e.g., during practice, on the sidelines, etc.) [Note: There are some sports where it is not safe or possible to wear a mask while practicing given the requirements of the sport (e.g. swimming). Athletics will work with these teams to communicate expectations around masking.]
  • Faculty and staff may begin to use the college’s athletic facilities, starting Monday, Jan. 31; 
  • Faculty may host guest lecturers for their courses, as long as those guests present documentation that they are fully vaccinated and boosted, and remain masked at all times while indoors; and
  • Special events for seniors (e.g., thesis performances, thesis productions, thesis exhibits, senior days for athletic teams) may have guardians or family members in attendance, as long as they pre-register, present documentation that they are fully vaccinated and boosted and remain masked at all times while indoors.
Winter Carnival

Some of you have begun to ask questions about the status of Winter Carnival. This annual tradition is scheduled to begin on Saturday, Feb. 5, with the Lost Valley Takeover event. The Office of Campus Life has been working closely with student clubs and organizations to make this series of programs exciting and safe for students. In addition, there will be a number of outdoor and indoor events and activities happening throughout the week that we know students are eagerly anticipating. You can find a calendar of events here

It is our hope and plan to continue with these events, but the Office of Campus Life may need to adjust some of the programming to prevent crowding indoors, including setting capacity limits and modifying food and beverage options. As with all indoor events, masking will be required.

February Break

With February break (Saturday, Feb. 19 to Sunday, Feb. 27) just three weeks away, we want to let you know that we expect to continue with the February break as planned. Students have the option to leave or to stay on campus. 

Students who remain on campus for February break must test on Wednesday, Feb. 23 in Muskie Archives between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.

All students who leave campus for the break are required to complete a pre-arrival test no more than 48 hours before returning to campus. Rapid antigen “home tests” are acceptable for this purpose. 

Regardless of whether they were or were not on campus during February break, all students are required to complete an antigen test at Muskie Archives on Sunday, Feb. 27, or Monday, Feb. 28. Students are not permitted to return to classes until they have completed this test. The hours of operation for the COVID-19 Testing Center will be:

  • Sunday, Feb. 27, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Monday, Feb. 28, 7:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

In the coming days, the COVID-19 Testing Center team will be sending an email with directions to sign up for your testing time on Sunday, Feb. 27, or Monday, Feb. 28.

We Need Your Help

Since returning for the winter semester, contact tracing shows that the vast majority of the student cases of COVID-19 resulted from unmasked social gatherings, large and small. While we understand that there may be lower health risks to an almost fully vaccinated and boosted population of 18-22-year-olds, it is important to consider the impact of the required public health measures — primarily isolation — on the staff, who continue to work around the clock to support students in isolation with meal delivery, mail and medication delivery, etc. We do not want to find ourselves in a position where we cannot support the many isolation needs of positive students alongside normal campus operations. Further, for some members of our community, including faculty and staff, COVID-19 remains a serious health concern.

As was true in the fall semester, we have one overarching goal – to make it possible for students to enjoy the fullest possible experience on campus, including in-person classes, meals in Commons, co-curricular activities, and social gatherings. With this in mind, we need your help mitigating transmission by being more rigorous about safety measures, particularly masking, and by avoiding situations, such as unmasked social gatherings, that are guaranteed to spread infection, given the high transmissibility of omicron. With your help and cooperation, and some extra vigilance, we can expect to see better testing outcomes that will enable us to open more things up on campus, including in-person dining.

Where to Direct Questions

If you have questions and are not sure where to direct them, please email studentaffairs@bates.edu, and you will be connected to the right person to assist you.

Following our strategy from the earliest days of this pandemic, we will track the latest scientific guidance, monitor testing data closely, and adjust campus policies on a week-to-week basis. I understand that this is not the news we all wanted to hear today. However, we are confident that our immediate attention and collective action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus will begin to turn things around and move us in the right direction. We will host an information session for students next week and we will send you the date and time for this session on Monday.

Again, thank you for your continued cooperation and patience.

All my best,

Joshua McIntosh
Vice President for Campus Life