COVID-19 Cases Soar at Bates, still Middle of Road in NESCAC

Madeline Polkinghorn

COVID-19 cases on campus have hit an all-time high, with the official campus dashboard reporting 14 active cases (including 13 active student cases – one who is not on campus – and one active staff case)  as of the most recent test date, Nov. 16. 

While the overall positivity rate remains only at 0.05% (19 total positive tests out of 40,908 cumulative tests), the emergence of new cases has rocked the campus community, with many students electing to leave campus early so that they do not have to be quarantined on campus during the upcoming Thanksgiving break.

While many people in the Bates community have been alarmed by the sharp rise in cases, Bates remains average compared to NESCAC peers. 

In an email communication disseminated to students and parents on Nov. 13, McIntosh provided a brief update regarding COVID-19 on campus. Regarding recent testing results, McIntosh wrote:

“To review student testing results from this week – we had five students test positive from Monday’s tests, and two students test positive from Tuesday’s, with no new positives from Wednesday’s testing. We have a student who, while at home, tested positive from a private health care provider. These new cases, plus the two cases from last week, brought our total active student cases as of yesterday to 10. Today, we are receiving the results of Thursday’s tests. Yesterday, we completed 965 tests. As of 11:30 this morning, we have received 503 results, and two students have tested positive for COVID-19. These students have a relationship to the other students who have recently tested positive. They have been notified, are moving to isolation housing, and contact tracing is underway. As of 12:00 today, we have a total of 12 active student cases.”

On Tuesday, Vice President for Campus Life Joshua McIntosh shared that 480 students have already headed home during an Instagram Live with Cats V Covid, a student group tasked with helping students manage the new normal at Bates. More than 500 have contacted Student Affairs with plans to leave early. 

He also said that more than 60 students are currently in quarantine due to contact tracing. These students will have to spend the full 14-day quarantine at Bates.  

In his email, McIntosh continued to stress the importance of basic COVID-19 prevention measures, such as masking, physical distancing, and hand washing to prevent further spread of the deadly virus on campus. Furthermore, McIntosh reiterated that attending in-person classes, which are designed with physical distancing in mind, are still safe, as are outdoor activities if proper guidelines are followed. 

Finally, he strongly urged students not to gather in groups or parties over the weekend, remarking that recent spikes in Maine have been attributed to such activities where people do not wear masks or distance and share food or drink.

On Nov. 17, McIntosh sent out a second email communication: this time regarding reducing public health risk while traveling from campus to students’ homes. In the statement, McIntosh urged students to limit close contacts, verify COVID protocols for entering their respective states, and monitor the level of spread at their destination. 

While traveling, McIntosh also encouraged the use of sanitizer and masks. Upon arriving, students ideally should complete a full 14-day quarantine. If this is absolutely not possible, students should at the very least isolate for a few days, limit close contact with family, increase ventilation in the house, or get a swab test. 

Ending his statement, McIntosh expressed his “deep appreciation for the many ways you have worked to enable us to offer an on-campus experience this fall and thank you for showing our community how respecting science and expert advice is an important part of the recipe for mitigating the risk during this pandemic.”

As scary as the rise in cases has been, other NESCAC schools have dealt with greater infection rates this semester. Trinity College has posted 119 student cases to date with a student body only slightly larger than Bates. Despite the outbreak in mid-October, Trinity was able to implement an in-room quarantine and bring its cases back down.

Overall, Bates is tied with Colby for sixth place with 21 student COVID-19 cases each. The lowest, Middlebury, has had five.