Like all Bates students, I had to be tested for COVID-19 before setting foot on campus. My testing and check-in time, which I’d signed up for, was 9 a.m. Tuesday, the first of three testing days.

I left my off-campus apartment at 8:50 a.m. for the walk to Underhill Arena, aka the Bates Testing Center, with my roommate. In a rush to get there on time, I had to leave behind half a mug of coffee I’d just poured myself.

The walk was quiet. We didn’t see anyone on campus until we got just past Commons on the path to both gyms where we had our first sighting of other Bates students: four guys in face coverings heading toward the canopy tents that were set up outside Underhill Arena.

Day three of a three-day move in featured loads of luggage, spirited greetings, and emotional goodbyes. 

Ellie Vance '21 of Birmingham, Ala., poses for a portrait on Alumni Walk.
This essay’s author, Ellie Vance ’21, is a politics and psychology double major from Birmingham, Ala., and a Bates Communications editorial assistant. She posed for this portrait on Alumni Walk. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

A friend stopped us to say hello. She had just finished getting tested and assured us that it was “fairly quick and easy.”

A Bates staff member on a golf cart sped by and waved hello. Another said hi as they walked past. My roommate and I, and our fellow housemate who joined us to walk over (masked and walking 6 feet apart), commented on how strange it was not to recognize anyone due to their masks.

Were the staff who were greeting us people that we knew, who recognized us from meals at Commons or lounging around the Quad? Or were they just being extra friendly because they knew how strange this must be for students?

The friend we’d met up with recently dyed her blond hair bright pink and explained to us that she wanted to have something that made her easily identifiable to other students since our masks would make it hard to recognize each other. After our mysterious encounters with staff, I realized she had the right idea.

Move-In Day, the first of three successive days, on Aug. 25, 2020. Students start at Underhill for COVID-19 testing, go to Merrill for keys, head to residences, where they wait until based on the wrist bands they received at Underhill, head over to tent adjacent to Garcelon Field for a bagged lunch.
Bates athletic trainer Catie O’Neal guides students toward the Testing Center. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Once we reached the tents, we were asked basic COVID screening questions: “Have you had a fever in the last 14 days? Have you been exposed to anyone who tested positive?” Etc. Our screener then directed us to the eloquently named “snot stations” where we used Commons napkins to blow our noses. (Fun fact: snot can mess with the test.) After our nasal cavities were sufficiently clear, and after a couple squirts of hand sanitizer, we were directed inside the arena for testing.

Inside, we were met by a neat line of Bates staff members sitting at desk stations that were shielded by plexiglass. This row of desks ran parallel to, and in front of, another line of curtained-off boxes, reminiscent of a blood-drive setup or even an upscale tattoo parlor.

Underhill Arena, where the college will test members of the Bates community for COVID-19, in the process of being set up on Aug. 17, 2020.

Posing for portraits is Assistant Director of Athletics for Athletic Performance Nick Cooke, who Is running the testing center. He and President Clayton  Spencer with Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Josh McIntosh take a tour of the facility which is almost but not entirely set up. Testing for employees begins on Aug. 18, 2020.
Underhill Arena is now the Bates Testing center for COVID-19. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

I was directed to Station Four where Erin Brown checked me in. A staffer in College Advancement, Brown, like the others at the testing center, was taking time from her regular Bates job to help out.

I showed her my ID, and she gave me a bar-coded collection tube and a sealed swab, then she pointed me to one of the curtained spaces (also named No. 4) right across from us.

Once there, I was greeted by a nurse with her first name, Julia, on a badge on her chest. She showed me how to take the test, which I was incredibly relieved to see wasn’t the ultra-invasive, deep nasal swab test I’d already had the misfortune of taking twice during the summer. She instructed me to take the swab out of its packaging, swirl it around in each nostril three times, and then seal it back inside its container. No brain scraping required. 

After that, I was shown out of the building, where a staff member gave me a black wristband and explained that it was color coded for the day I “arrived” on campus and was tested. The wristband gives me access to Dash to-go meals while I await test results. Most excitingly, I got a goodie bag that contained a thermometer and two Bates masks.

Move-In Day, the first of three successive days, on Aug. 25, 2020. Students start at Underhill for COVID-19 testing, go to Merrill for keys, head to residences, where they wait until based on the wrist bands they received at Underhill, head over to tent adjacent to Garcelon Field for a bagged lunch.
Eileen Messina, a staff member in College Advancement, places a wrist band on a Carlos Gonzalez ’24 of San Salvador, El Salvador, as he leaves the testing center. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

I checked my phone: Nine minutes had passed from the time we walked up to the garnet tents to our exit from Underhill. With testing done, it was time for check-in, across the way at Merrill Gym.

I wasn’t quite sure what checking in meant for me, as I’m living in an off-campus residence (no key needed), but I dutifully lined up in the row for students whose last names started with M through Z — careful to stand on the spot on the floor that marked me 6 feet away from the students in front of, behind, and to the side of me.

No one was talking, perhaps because it was still early in the morning (by student times) and many of us were still half asleep (I certainly was). Both lines moved quickly, and within minutes I was inside the gym.

At another station, I was greeted by two staff members and figured out why check-in was needed: They activated my ID so I can swipe in to get meals and enter academic buildings. They also gave me my parking pass. And that was that.

I left the gym, regrouped with my friends, and we started to make our way back to our apartment. We made it back home a whole 20 minutes after we initially set out. When I walked back inside, my cup of coffee was still warm.

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