177 Students Test Positive for COVID-19 from Jan. 15 to Jan. 28; Bates Updates Their Public Health Policies

On Jan. 28, Vice President of Campus Life Josh McIntosh updated the college on its recent COVID-19 testing results and announced that on Tuesday, Jan. 25, the positivity rate rose to 3.7% after 55 students and four employees tested positive, the highest number of cases in a single day at Bates. 

According to the Bates COVID-19 Dashboard — last updated at the time of McIntosh’s message — there are 122 active COVID-19 cases, with 109 students and 13 employees. 

As McIntosh’s message read, based on contact tracing, this large spike in student coronavirus cases appears to be the “result of unmasked social gatherings, large and small.” McIntosh continued by stating, “Our classrooms remain some of the safest places on our campus because of the extremely high rate of vaccination, boosters, and masking.” 

The update also mentioned that a “swift transmission and high number of cases, followed by steep declines” has been a pattern with omicron elsewhere. 

This same pattern was seen at Colby College earlier this semester, whose move-in date was Jan. 2, a week before Bates moved in from Jan. 9-11. During the week of Jan. 10, Colby saw over 100 active cases in their community; that same week, Bates had 32 cases during arrival testing. Colby currently has 25 student and 23 employee active cases, a stark difference from Bates’ 122 active COVID-19 cases. As Bates enters the fourth week of the semester, it will be curious to see whether the number of cases drop as it did for Colby. 

The Student polled Bates students on their current stress due to the coronavirus, asking them to rate their stress levels on a scale of 0-5 with 0 being not stressed at all and 5 being very stressed. Of the 48 respondents, 27.1% rated their stress at a 5, 25% rated their stress at a 4 and 18.8% rated their stress at a 0. A total of 29.2% rated their stress between a 1 and a 3. 

Public Health Policy Changes:

Many students were likely saddened by the postponement of in-person dining. Instead of reopening on the original date of Sunday, Jan. 30, in-person dining will not be available for at least one more week. 

Additionally, since isolation housing is getting closer to capacity, Bates will return to the strategies it used during the baseline testing period, which allows students in a single occupancy room who test positive to isolate there instead of in isolation housing. Roommates who test positive on the same day will also isolate themselves in their existing room. 

Other changes include:

  •  Indoor activities and events sponsored by an academic or administrative department are capped at 100 participants, audience members or spectators as long as the size of the space can adequately accommodate the number of people.
  • Outdoor, in-person community engagement activities resume, which is a change from the postponement of all in-person community engagement. 
  • Students, faculty and staff actively participating on the stage in an indoor dance, theater or musical performance do not need to be masked, but must remain masked at all other times. 
  • Students who are participating in athletic competitions may be unmasked; however, students must be masked during practice and on the sidelines. Originally, students didn’t have to wear a mask during practices or competitions. 
  • Beginning Monday, Jan. 31, faculty and staff may use the college’s athletic facilities. 
  • Faculty may host guest lecturers and seniors may have guardians or family members in attendance at special events as long as the respective lecturers or guests are vaccinated, boosted and wear a mask indoors at all times. Families of seniors must all be pre-registered to attend. 

In McIntosh’s updates, various public health policies that remained the same were also listed. These included wearing only surgical masks, KN95s or 95s; masking in all indoor commons spaces, including residence halls; and testing every Tuesday and Thursday at Muskie Archives. Universal dorm access is still in effect. For the full list, visit the update here

Other Information Announced 

The update also stated that the annual Winter Carnival tradition is still scheduled to begin on Saturday, Feb. 5, with the Lost Valley Takeover event at the start. “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,” the update read. 

February break, which is in just three weeks, will also still be as planned. The update adds that students who remain on campus for February break must be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and students who leave campus are required to complete a pre-arrival test (rapid tests still being acceptable) no more than 48 hours before returning to campus. All students, regardless of whether they stayed on campus or not, will be required to complete an antigen test at Muskie Archives on Sunday, Feb. 27 or Monday, Feb. 28. 

At the end of the update, McIntosh stressed the importance of “mitigating transmissions by being more rigorous about safety measures, such as unmasked social gatherings, that are guaranteed to spread infection, given the high transmissibility of omicron.”

McIntosh continued, “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.”