Fall COVID-19 Update—August 10, 2021

To the Bowdoin community, 

I write to share more details about our fall plan. As President Rose outlined in his message last week, we are confident in our ability to have a safe semester that is close to normal, with all students, faculty, and staff back on campus for in-person classes and a full slate of activities. As he noted, SARS-COV-2 will be with us for some time, and we will need to learn how to manage it, both to protect the health and safety of our community and to operate in ways that are close to normal.

The cornerstone of our fall plan is the vaccine requirement. The Delta variant has added significant risks to unvaccinated individuals and created substantial pressures on health care systems in areas of the country with low vaccination rates. But with the College’s vaccination rate nearing 100 percent and the vaccination rate in Brunswick above 95 percent, our community is well protected. While there are reports of breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated individuals in Maine and elsewhere around the country—and we should expect that this may well occur on campus—severe breakthrough infections are exceedingly rare, with only 0.004 percent of fully vaccinated individuals requiring hospitalization for COVID-19. That said, we are monitoring and will continue to closely monitor the situation locally, across the country, and around the world.  

In addition to the cornerstone of vaccination, there are two other critical aspects to protecting our community: testing and symptom monitoring.

TESTING 

Arrival:

  • All students will undergo antigen testing upon arrival. A rapid antigen test allows us to quickly identify any student with a viral load high enough to infect others. Our ability to quickly isolate any positive students means the likelihood of transmission and an outbreak are minimal. 
  • Students will again be tested between three and five days after arrival, as the average incubation period of those exposed to the Delta variant is approximately three to five days. This gives us confidence that we will be able to identify and isolate any students who may have been exposed while traveling to campus. 

During the semester:

  • Students, faculty, and staff will undergo PCR surveillance testing during the fall semester. As of today, the plan is to test groups of faculty, staff, and students twice per week, with each member of our community being tested once a month (though the frequency and nature of this testing may change based on local conditions and national trends). Students will be assigned to testing cohorts in a manner that ensures occupants of every residence hall are included in each cohort. If a student tests positive, they will be moved to dedicated isolation housing, and contact tracing will be done to identify any close contacts. Unvaccinated close contacts will be asked to quarantine for seven days, and vaccinated close contacts will be asked to wear face coverings and undergo additional testing.
  • Campus surveillance testing will be conducted in Farley Field House on Monday and Thursday mornings. This effort will be led by Marcques Houston, an assistant coach of track and field, as well as by medical staff from Mid Coast Hospital. We are pleased to welcome Marcques to Bowdoin, and we are grateful to him and to Mid Coast Hospital for their help in this important endeavor. Details about specific testing cohorts will be released shortly.
  • Students who display even very mild symptoms will be required to remain in place, use a face covering, and immediately contact Health Services for a rapid antigen test.
  • Faculty and staff experiencing even mild symptoms are asked to stay home and utilize the rapid antigen test provided by the College or contact their primary care provider to get tested.
  • We recognize that many in our community live and interact with those who are at higher risk of serious infection, including those with young children. Each week, we are making available, at no cost, two BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen self-tests to student-facing faculty and staff who may want them. These tests are self-administered, easy to use, and highly accurate, and they provide results in fifteen minutes. Details will be forthcoming on when and where to pick up your weekly self-test kits.

SYMPTOMS

  • It is critical that all students, faculty, and staff pay close attention to their health for possible mild symptoms of COVID-19. Even very mild symptoms that might otherwise be considered signs of a modest cold can indicate the presence of the virus in a fully vaccinated individual. 
  • Students who experience even mild symptoms should remain in their rooms, wear a face covering, and contact Health Services to receive a rapid antigen test.
  • Faculty and staff who experience mild symptoms should remain at home until they are tested. Any faculty or staff member who tests positive should contact human resources (HR).

VACCINATION EXEMPTIONS

  • Currently, a handful of students have applied for a medical exemption. Any student who is granted a medical exemption will test twice a week and will wear a face covering inside (except in their bedroom). This testing and masking requirement also applies to those international students who may arrive not fully vaccinated, until they are fully vaccinated.
  • A small number of staff members have been approved for a medical or religious exemption. Those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except in a private office, and they will be tested twice a week. Unvaccinated staff may not be able to perform their duties as normally designed. There is more information on this that managers and HR will share with those specific individuals.

GUESTS

  • As President Rose announced, any guests to campus events must be fully vaccinated and will be required to prove their vaccination status. Details on how guests will provide their vaccination status will be released shortly. After move-in day, only students, faculty, and staff will be allowed in campus residences

FACE COVERINGS

  • While vaccinated family members or other guests are welcome to help students move into their residence halls, we are requiring all guests to wear face coverings inside on move-in day.  
  • After arrival days, we do NOT plan to have a universal face-covering mandate indoors (except for those who are not yet fully vaccinated). Currently, the CDC recommends face coverings for fully vaccinated individuals living in high-risk areas as well as those who are in compromised health situations. We will continue to assess the need for an indoor mask mandate and update the community as necessary.
  • Faculty and staff may have living situations where they closely interact with individuals (including children) who are unvaccinated or who are at higher risk of serious illness. Therefore, faculty and staff have the discretion to require face coverings in their classes, labs, meetings, or events. In addition, for this reason, there will be certain situations where a face covering will be required by the College. For example, we expect to require face coverings at Convocation and will likely require them at other large, densely packed indoor gatherings.
  • We know that some members of our community will feel more comfortable wearing a face covering, and they are welcome to do so. 

CAMPUS STATUS LEVELS

  • We will once again operate with campus status levels. As opposed to last academic year, when the status levels were limited to orange and red, we now have a campus status level of green. Please familiarize yourself with the campus status levels and any restrictions that may apply.  
  • In addition, the Fall 2021 FAQ has important information that will be updated as necessary.
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Transparency continues to be an essential element of our COVID-19 planning. We will share information about positive cases identified in our testing protocol as well as any changes to our plans. As President Rose noted in his message, we will need to remain flexible throughout the semester because the state of COVID-19 will continue to evolve. Our protocols and decisions will continue to be guided by data, science, and recommendations from public health officials and other experts.
Best,
Mike Ranen 
COVID-19 Resource Coordinator