Campus life at several colleges and universities in Maine will look anything but normal when students, staff and faculty return from winter vacation next month.
Concerned about the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, many schools in Maine, the northeast and the country are tightening the rules to reduce transmission.
Lewiston’s Bates College announced on Wednesday that it will begin the new semester remotely and restrict activities, in addition to requiring students to receive COVID booster shots. Bates students will also have to eat their meals in the dining hall to wear face coverings inside.
Actions taken at Maine campuses reflect a regional and national effort to reduce the spread of COVID and keep classes in person for as long as possible.
The University of Massachusetts announced Tuesday that COVID-19 boosters will be required of students and staff on all campuses. The UMass system has 75,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff.
Providence College in Rhode Island announced this week that it expects students, faculty and staff to receive reminders by February 1. Several New York State institutions are implementing recall warrants for students, including Cornell University, Ithaca College, and the University of Rochester. Loyola College in Chicago, Notre Dame University, and the University of New Mexico, to name a few, also make booster shots mandatory.
The more stringent requirements come as the highly transmissible variant of omicron becomes the dominant source of COVID infections nationwide and is expected to dominate Maine cases within days.
Maine reported 1,325 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 18 additional deaths. Hospitalizations rose to 331, up slightly from 330 on Tuesday, but down from a high of 387 on December 21.
Saint Joseph’s College in Standish appears to have been the first college in Maine to impose booster shots for all students, faculty and staff. Spokesman Oliver Griswold said the recall warrant went into effect on October 4. When students return from winter vacation on January 15, they must wear masks indoors for at least two weeks.
Brunswick’s Bowdoin College, which will resume classes on January 24, will require students, staff and faculty to receive booster injections by January 21. A callback clinic will be held on campus the week of January 17th.
“Vaccines are very effective and are our most powerful tools in protecting the health and safety of everyone here and in Brunswick,” Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose said in a message to the Bowdoin community this month. this.
Bates College announced Wednesday that in addition to requiring reminders for students by January 10, it will ban visitors from entering campus buildings, including during sporting events, musical performances and art exhibitions. Students will be required to have take-out meals in the dining hall, and distance learning will be in place for at least the first few days after students return from winter break.
“We plan to resume in-person classes as soon as campus conditions permit, which we hope will be early in the semester,” said Joshua McIntosh, vice president of campus life. But conditions could make it impossible to return to near-normal operations, he added.
The University of Maine system has measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings should be worn in all indoor locations through March and are recommended at outdoor gatherings. In addition, students are required to provide proof that they are fully immunized, unless they have an exemption, before attending classes in person. The requirement will remain in effect until May, in accordance with the policy posted on the Together for Maine web page.
The University of New England has adopted several protocols for the spring semester, university president James D. Herbert said on Wednesday. Everyone who works or studies on the Biddeford or Portland campus should be reminded by February 16. Double masking is also mandatory during the first week of the semester, which for undergraduates begins on January 17.
“It has become increasingly clear that we, as a society, have entered a new phase of this pandemic in which we simply will not be able to avoid the transmission of the virus entirely on our campuses, as we have endeavored to do it so far, ”says Herbert. “However, we will use the above mitigation measures to slow its spread, with full vaccination (including the booster dose) being the cornerstone of our strategy.”
As of February 1, all students, faculty and staff at Colby College will be considered vaccinated provided they have received their booster injection if they are eligible by February 1, according to a statement from Colby.
Colby students will also be required to wear masks indoors, except while eating or alone in their residences. Social gatherings on and off campus should be limited to 10 people, and spectators at indoor sporting events will be limited to those covered by college testing protocols. Students are required to take a COVID test three times a week.
The Maine Community College System now requires that all students attending in-person classes receive booster shots within one month of being eligible. In addition, COVID tests will be required for the roughly 1,000 students who live in community college residences. Students in residence must provide proof of a negative test taken 72 hours or less before their winter vacation arrival. Maine community colleges will resume classes on January 17 or later.
Sun Journal editor Steve Collins contributed to this story
Fearing the spread of omicron, Bates College imposes new COVID-19 restrictions