LEWISTON — When Bates College students arrive on campus next week to begin a new semester, they’re expected to bring some cases of COVID-19 with them.

Given the raging pandemic almost everywhere in the country, Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life, told students they’ll undergo a more comprehensive testing regimen than they did during the fall semester, which had mandatory screenings twice weekly.

McIntosh said the college is going to require three tests weekly for at least the first couple of weeks and add an entirely new system of rapid antigen screening in addition.

All of the testing aims at controlling the spread of the potentially deadly disease that forced Bates to shutter its campus last March and impose strict public health rules throughout the fall semester.

Hathorn Hall at Bates College, the school’s first building, completed in 1857. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

All told, 25 students and 18 college employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since August, including one active case among the college’s staff. Bates managed to avoid any large outbreaks and its success in clamping down on the disease compared favorably to most of its peers in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

Students are slated to return to Lewiston during a two-day period that begins Thursday, Feb. 11. Most students are expected to come back, but they have the option of studying remotely.

They are required to go first to the Bates COVID-19 Testing Center at Underhill Arena, where they’ll be screened using the rapid test and the more accurate PCR test from the Broad Institute in Boston that Bates relied on during the fall.

Bates College COVID-19 dashboard results through January 2021. Bates College

Using the rapid test for every student on arrival “will help to identify active cases of COVID-19 and give us the opportunity to immediately begin isolation protocol to support those students within their initial hours on campus,” McIntosh said in a letter to students.

He said it will also reduce the chances of people with active cases “spending time in a residence hall while they await the results” of the more accurate test whose results usually take a couple of days to come back.

Minimizing exposure will help keep the coronavirus in check and lower the number of close contacts who would need to be quarantined after the discovery that somebody tests positive, McIntosh said.

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“While rapid antigen screening may not identify all students who ultimately test positive via their Broad PCR test, it will identify students with the greatest risk of transmitting COVID-19 to other students,” he said.

Students who get a positive rapid test will be moved to isolation housing immediately at least until the more accurate test’s results are available.

Every student is required to stay in their dorm room or off-campus residence during the arrival quarantine period except to use the restroom or pick up grab-and-go meals.

After they get negative test results, probably in 36 to 48 hours, they’ll be able to move around on campus. They will not be allowed to leave campus or attend class until they get a second negative result, however.

The college is maintaining its requirement that everybody on campus wear masks and maintain social distancing.


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