March 20, 2020 — COVID-19 Update 3/20/20

To students, faculty, and staff, 

The news continues to be difficult. We learned today of three Bowdoin students who were in contact during spring break with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. This contact occurred outside of Maine, and none of the students has been on campus, in Brunswick, or in contact with anyone else from campus or town since their contact with the infected individual. They are each presumed to be infected, however, and are currently in self-isolation outside of Maine. 

There are now confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Brunswick, at Bates, and at Colby. We should expect more difficult news in the days and weeks ahead.

This morning, I let our senior class know that we will not be able to hold Commencement as scheduled in May, and we are also telling alumni today that Reunion will not be going forward as planned. 

This is deeply disappointing news for the Class of 2020 and for their family members and friends who were really looking forward to celebrating the achievements of our seniors. It is also disappointing for our many alumni who had plans to renew their connections to classmates, friends, and the College during Reunion a week later. 

As I wrote to our seniors this morning, the likelihood is small that the risks from COVID-19 will have diminished sufficiently by May, and given the planning required by the College—and by families, friends, alumni—I reluctantly concluded that it is necessary to cancel these events and celebrations. I held off making these decisions as long as I reasonably could, but today, with all we know and with what the experts are telling us, it just wasn’t right to wait any longer.

Make no mistake—we will celebrate once the virus has passed and we are able to travel safely and gather in large groups again, and we will do everything we can to make sure every one of our seniors has the opportunity to be here for that celebration. As soon as we have a better understanding of when this public health crisis will pass, we will begin to sort out the details for a Commencement ceremony, with participation in the planning by members of the Class of 2020. And we’ll work with alumni to do the same thing for Reunion.

In the meantime, we are making steady progress here on campus in preparing for the start of remote learning next Wednesday and in making our campus and our community as safe as they can be. I am so grateful for the enormous amount of work done already and for the work still to come, and for the generosity of spirit from our community every day. 

This spirit was on full display during yesterday’s “town halls.” If you participated in any of those three sessions, you heard, for example, students expressing concerns about staff, faculty and staff asking about students, and all three groups wondering about the impact of all of this on the larger community here in Brunswick. They wanted to know how to help; this speaks volumes about Bowdoin people.

The Brunswick Downtown Association has a website to keep the community informed about how local business are coping, while others are maintaining a list of community needs, opportunities, and services. The College is also doing what it can to help. Academic affairs is coordinating donations of personal protective equipment from our labs and museums and from visual arts to supplement the supply at Mid Coast Hospital, and we’ve told hospital officials that we will make Watson Arena available to them as a temporary treatment center, if they need it. The McKeen Center is organizing donations of much-needed supplies to the Tedford Shelter and to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), and we are also increasing dining service donations of food to MCHPP. And because our community continues to depend on the availability and expertise of first responders, we have offered campus housing to any EMS workers who need to remain separate from family members who may be at greater risk for COVID-19.   

On campus, we learned today that two of our seniors—Emily Oleisky and Hailey Wozniak—have been awarded prestigious Watson Fellowships, and yesterday, senior Maddie Hasson was named the 2020 Division III Player of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. On Wednesday, Tracy McMullen—associate professor and chair of Bowdoin’s music department—learned that she has been named a 2020 Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellow, one of only twenty-five in the country awarded by the American Council of Learned Societies. As we navigate the uncertain weeks ahead, it is important that we continue to recognize and celebrate accomplishments like these.

Our faculty are also helping us to better understand where we are and how we might work our way through this crisis. Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Hadley Horch made this informative YouTube video to walk folks through a complex academic paper on the novel coronavirus outbreak, and Belinda Kong, our John F. and Dorothy H. Magee Associate Professor of Asian Studies and English, published this terrific piece on how the people in China have been coping. I encourage you to have a look at both.

I hope circumstances will allow you to get a bit of a break over the weekend even as you continue to prepare for the resumption of classes next week. Thank you again for all you are doing to stay safe and to support one another through this unprecedented situation.

All the best,

Clayton