Bates Updates Masking Policy in Light of Low COVID-19 Case Numbers

Elizabeth LaCroix, Managing News Editor

On Monday, March 7, Vice President of Campus Life Josh McIntosh sent an update to students, faculty and staff regarding changes to the masking, visitor and dining policies on campus. These changes, which are the result of lower COVID-19 case numbers in the previous weeks, became effective Tuesday.

“Given our low positivity rates and the low number of cases on campus coupled with a steady downward trajectory nationally and locally, our masking, visitor/guest, and dining policies will change,” the message read. 

As of March 7, there were three active student cases and two active employee cases. On March 1, there was a positivity rate of 0.1%, and two days later, the positivity rate was 0.2%. This is a huge drop from January when the positivity rate rose to 3.7%. 

Changes to COVID-19 Policy

Perhaps the most major changes are to the masking policy, which formerly required students to be masked in all areas except when seated in Commons or in their rooms. Now, masking with a surgical, KN95 or N95 mask is optional on campus except in the following locations:

  • In classrooms, studios and laboratory spaces, unless the faculty member says masking is optional. Students, faculty and staff can walk around buildings and study without wearing a mask. However, the college said this could be subject to change if higher transmission rates are seen. 
  • In private offices, unless the faculty or staff member makes masking optional. 
  • At indoor events, meetings and other gatherings, unless the host(s) releases this requirement. However, if there are outside guests or visitors who are present at these events and activities, masking is required. 
  • Lindholm House, the Bates Art Museum, the Bates College Store and performing art spaces (e.g. Olin, Schaeffer) will all require masks. Spectators in athletic facilities (e.g. Merrill, Alumni, Boathouse) will also require masks due to the public nature of the buildings and the high volume of non-Bates visitors/guests. 
  • In healthcare facilities (e.g. Health Services, Sports Medicine, COVID-19 Testing Center and Counseling & Psychological Services).

As per usual, individuals who are unvaccinated or who have a vaccine/booster exemption must remain masked at all times. 

The college also advised community members who fall into a higher risk category, as described by the CDC, to continue to wear a mask. 

Additionally, if guests show proof of being fully vaccinated and boosted at the door, academic and administrative departments may host guests and visitors in the college’s buildings. Guests who are unable to prove full vaccination are permitted to enter the venue if they have tested negative for COVID-19 in the last 48 hours. 

For student social events, attendance will remain limited to just Bates students, faculty and staff with vendors and third-party contractors being the only exception.

After almost a two-year hiatus, faculty and staff will be able to dine in Commons for lunch and dinner beginning on Tuesday. Indoor events that include non-Bates visitors and guests will be allowed to serve food. However, the college asks event hosts to be mindful of the density and plan for three feet of physical distance when eating. 

For all of the changes cited above, the college consulted with the Maine CDC and the Mayo Clinic.

Comparison to Colby and Bowdoin

On Feb. 21, Colby lifted many of their masking requirements, and similar to Bates, left it up to the course instructor if students should be wearing them in the classroom. As of March 5, Colby has 43 active student cases and four employee cases.

Bowdoin, on the other hand, still requires masks in the classroom and lab spaces, but they are not required in academic spaces like the library. This policy has been effective since Feb. 4. As of March 4, Bowdoin has one active student case and two employee cases. 

Keep an eye out for COVID-19 cases and policy updates on @thebatesstudent.