Moving Forward with COVID-19 (January 10, 2022)

Dear Bowdoin students, staff, and faculty, 

I hope you had a restful holiday season with family and friends. 

Earlier today you received a message from Mike Ranen describing our specific COVID-19 plans for the start of the spring 2022 semester. I am writing to share with you our approach to the challenges of COVID-19 going forward, based on what we now know and the tools we now have. 

We are coming to the end of our second year in the pandemic. During this time, the world, the country, and all of us in the Bowdoin community have experienced unrelenting disruption, challenges, stress, and fear, and there has been so much death and tragedy. We have also witnessed the power of science, the dedication and sacrifice of health care and frontline workers, and wonderful acts of compassion and kindness from so many each day. 

As you know, our decision-making over the last two years has been anchored by the goals of protecting the health and safety of our campus community and the broader Brunswick community and delivering an excellent Bowdoin education to our students in the context of the pandemic. We made decisions and choices with these goals in mind, driven by data and science, with an acute awareness of what we did not know. For most of the last two years, there was significant uncertainty on many fronts, particularly concerning the potential for members of our community to become seriously ill, be hospitalized, or die from COVID-19 and how the virus might mutate to increase these risks. Given these uncertainties and the potentially devastating health consequences, our practices and protocols on campus were geared to having as few infections as possible to avoid the possibility of severe health outcomes. 

Over the last year, we have learned a great deal that will inform and shape our decisions going forward. We better understand the virus and its impact, we can test effectively, and we have developed vaccines and drugs to mitigate the effects of the virus and treat those who are ill. 

The vaccines, including the booster, are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. It is primarily the unvaccinated who are suffering the most serious outcomes (from both Omicron and Delta)—cases that are putting intense pressure on both the health care system and health care workers. The virus and COVID-19 are almost certain to be with us for the long term, but the health risks have been markedly reduced for most fully vaccinated people. 

Our primary goals for this coming semester and beyond remain the same: protecting the health and safety of the campus and Brunswick communities and delivering an excellent Bowdoin education. The knowledge we have acquired and the tools now at our disposal will allow us to achieve these goals with a different approach, one that acknowledges that the virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, that recognizes the significantly reduced health risks for a fully vaccinated campus, and that will allow us to begin to move back to a campus and college experience that is more normal. This will take us some time and some getting used to.

I am mindful that I am writing this as Omicron surges across the country and in Maine. As you read in Mike’s message, we will continue to structure our protocols to safely manage our community through the return to campus and start of the semester. Interestingly, the Omicron data we have and the experiences with this variant provide insight into what will likely shape our future of “living with COVID.” In particular, the virus will be “endemic” (a regular feature of the viral diseases that we can acquire), fully vaccinated (boosted) individuals are unlikely to suffer serious health consequences, and masking during an outbreak (or in general) is very effective at preventing acquisition or transmission of the virus. Masking (with the proper masks) will play an important role for those who have unvaccinated family members at home, particularly young children. 

Of course, if we have learned anything over the last two years, it is that something unexpected could happen. We know how to adjust, and we will if necessary. 

COVID-19 will be with us for a long time and we will need to continue to account for it, which we can now do while moving back to life that is more normal.  

I look forward to seeing you again soon on campus. Thank you for all you do for one another and for our College. 

All the best, 

Clayton