Fall Semester Update (July 30, 2021)
I hope you have been having a restful and fun summer, and that life has been moving closer to normal for you, your families, and your friends. With the arrival of first-year students now less than a month away and the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, I am writing to update you on our pandemic-related plans for the fall semester.
THE DELTA VARIANT
We are all closely watching the rise of new cases caused by the Delta variant. While it is very troubling to see the increase in infections, serious illness, and hospitalizations, it is important to note that thus far the cases that result in hospitalization or death are concentrated among those who have not been vaccinated. The three approved COVID-19 vaccines in the US have been highly protective against serious illness. I am also very encouraged by the high vaccination rates of eligible residents locally and in Maine. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) estimates that 99 percent of those eligible in Brunswick are vaccinated, with more than 80 percent vaccinated in Cumberland County.
The effectiveness of the vaccines combined with high vaccination rates in our area and Bowdoin’s vaccination requirement provide the foundation for my confidence in our ability to have a safe semester that is close to normal, with all students, staff, and faculty back on campus for in-person classes and a full slate of activities. As discussed below, with only a handful of exceptions, all faculty, staff, and students who will be on campus this semester will be fully vaccinated (as of today 100 percent of the faculty and 97 percent of the staff are fully vaccinated). In addition, all visitors to campus—family, friends, admissions visitors, speakers, etc.—will have to provide evidence of being fully vaccinated (this does not include people simply walking the grounds), and unvaccinated children will not be permitted at College-sponsored events or in buildings on move-in days for our first-year and returning students. We recognize that excluding unvaccinated children is likely disappointing to those affected and may limit the ability of some to participate in campus events in person. We are taking this step in consultation with public health officials and other experts who are concerned that, because children in this age group are currently ineligible for vaccinations, they could be vulnerable to contracting the virus themselves or could spread it to others while being asymptomatic.
There are a couple of things that are important to keep in mind as we approach the start of the new academic year. First, we will need to be flexible and know that it may become necessary for us to add health and safety protocols to protect the campus and Brunswick communities and that some of these protocols could limit what we do.
In addition, while the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective, and the data tell us they are powerful in preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death, no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Based on my conversations with medical and scientific experts, we should all understand that the campus may well experience breakthrough cases, with these cases likely being asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. If breakthrough cases occur, we have protocols in place to manage the situation and to continue operating normally in most cases.
We will continue to take precautionary measures. Specifically, we will again run a surveillance testing program for the semester. All students will undergo rapid antigen testing upon arrival and all students, faculty, and staff will participate in surveillance testing once a month throughout the semester in partnership again with the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students who are asked to isolate will be placed in housing that has been reserved for this purpose. We will again conduct contact tracing. Based on medical and public health guidance, vaccinated individuals who are identified as close contacts will not need to quarantine. More details about testing will be announced shortly.
EXEMPTIONS AND THE UNVACCINATED
A handful of staff members have been approved for a medical or religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. We may have a few students who seek a medical exemption (students are eligible only for a medical exemption). Those who are unvaccinated will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except in a private office or bedroom, and they will be tested twice a week. Unvaccinated staff may not be able to perform their duties as normally designed, and there is more information on this that managers and HR will share with those specific individuals. In addition, a small number of international students will be arriving on campus unvaccinated. They will be quarantined for seven days per guidance from the CDC and we will provide them with access to a vaccine. I want to also note that there will be some fully vaccinated members of our community who choose to wear face coverings, and I want to encourage you to do so if the protection enhances your feeling of safety.
ACCESS TO CAMPUS FACILITIES
Generally, college building access will be restricted to students, faculty, and staff using their OneCard, and this includes the College’s libraries. Campus events (e.g., athletic competitions, lectures, performances, etc.) will require all spectators and patrons to be fully vaccinated, regardless of whether the event is inside or outside. While the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will remain open to the vaccinated public, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and special collections and archives will be open by appointment only. More details on how visitors will prove they are vaccinated will be released in the coming weeks. It is important to note that all family members and guests accompanying students on move-in day must be fully vaccinated. Campus grounds will remain open to the public.
Let me again say that, based on everything we know today, and because the campus and region have very high levels of vaccination, our plan to operate in a largely normal mode in the fall is unchanged. We will be learning to navigate the Delta variant and whatever other “curveballs” the pandemic throws at us over the course of the semester. We will all need to be flexible and understand that it is possible that the guidance and protocols could change based on circumstances. Mike Ranen will once again serve as the COVID-19 resource coordinator for the College (thank you, Mike), and he will be following up over the next few weeks with more specific information on the semester.I am very much looking forward to welcoming members of the Class of 2020 to campus in two weeks (August 13–14) for the celebration of graduation they were unable to have in the spring of 2020. Shortly after that, student leaders will be returning to help prepare us to welcome the Class of 2025, and then our first-year students arrive on August 24. I cannot wait to have everyone back on campus.
All the best,