Mask Mandate (August 23, 2021)

To students, faculty, and staff, 

Effective tomorrow, August 24—and for what I hope and expect will be for a limited time, as we welcome first-year and returning students to campus—the College will require face coverings INDOORS for all members of the campus community and all visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

There are three exceptions to this rule: 

  1. Face coverings will not be required indoors for those who are actively eating on campus (although face coverings are required while waiting in line and picking up food).  
  2. Face coverings will not be required for students inside THEIR OWN residence halls.  
  3. Face coverings will not be required for faculty and staff in THEIR OWN offices. 

We will revisit this face covering requirement and hope to lift it for vaccinated individuals on Saturday, September 4, if several rounds of testing between August 24 and September 3 confirm that we continue to have very low levels of infection and that we are poised to begin the semester safely.    

However, as Mike Ranen wrote in his message of August 10, faculty and staff have the discretion at any time during the semester to require face coverings in classes, labs, or events, and members of the campus community who prefer to wear face coverings are welcome to do so at any time. 

WHY IS THE COLLEGE MAKING THIS CHANGE? 

Our campus community, Brunswick, and the region all have very high rates of full vaccination, and all three surrounding counties (Androscoggin, Cumberland, and Sagadahoc) remain below CDC infection thresholds for recommending face coverings indoors. Our experience over the summer—with fully vaccinated individuals on campus and residing in our residence halls for a number of programs—demonstrates the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and our safety protocols, so far. 

We welcomed back four hundred graduates and many family members ten days ago for a make-up Commencement for the Class of 2020. Ten of us who were in close contact with large numbers of people (including me) acted as a sample for testing for the subsequent six days. None of us tested positive, and we have no reports of positive tests among the people who visited campus. This result is due to the diligence of everyone in our community and the amazing work of members of our staff.  

So, why are we making this change and putting into place a (hopefully) short-term mask mandate? This is a precautionary measure given the persistently high rates of infection in many places around the country, and because we have students—and some faculty and staff—traveling through airports and arriving from many locations.  

ACCEPTABLE FACE COVERINGS  

When selecting a face covering, please make sure it: 

  • has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric; 
  • completely covers your nose and mouth; 
  • fits snugly against the sides of your face without gaps;  
  • has a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top; and 
  • is NOT a gaiter (gaiters are not acceptable face coverings at Bowdoin). 

TESTING 

  • All first-year students will be required to have a rapid antigen test when they arrive on campus tomorrow, and they will all receive PCR tests on Saturday, August 28, when they return from their orientation trips. 
  • Returning upperclass students will be required to have antigen tests on August 29, 30, and 31, and will receive PCR tests on September 2 and 3. 
  • Also on September 2, the College will begin a program in conjunction with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, of testing curated samples of the campus population twice each a week, with any one individual PCR-tested once a month. 
  • The frequency of testing will be increased if necessary. 
  • Each week, the College will provide two BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen self-tests free of charge to any student-facing faculty and staff who may want them.  

PLEASE… REPORT ANY SYMPTOMS 

Reporting any symptoms—even those considered mild—is a critical component in our ability to identify and contain COVID-19 infections on campus. 

  • Students with even mild symptoms will be required to remain in place and contact Health Services to arrange for a rapid antigen test. 
  • Faculty and staff with even mild symptoms are asked to stay home and take a rapid antigen test before being cleared by human resources for returning to campus. 

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It is likely that SARS-COV-2 will be with us for some time, and so 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 as close to normal as possible. 

Sincerely, 

Clayton