Bates College in Lewiston. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Faced with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, Bates College has cracked down on violations of rules aimed at controlling the spread of the virus on campus.

Vice President for Campus Life Joshua McIntosh said that as of Thursday, 11 students “have been sent home and switched to remote learning for four weeks. We are still working to resolve some additional incidents, therefore these numbers may increase as we move through the conduct process on other issues of noncompliance.”

McIntosh warned in a Friday note to the college community that if “the trend of students testing positive continues upward, we may find ourselves needing to implement a campuswide in-room restriction with remote learning for a number of days in order to stabilize the situation.”

Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life at Bates College.  Submitted photo

The college has had 18 student cases of COVID-19 this month on campus, 11 of them active as of Thursday evening. They are in isolation housing.

The college, which has about 1,800 students, also has 55 close contacts of those with active cases following an in-room quarantine protocol in case they wind up with the virus.

Bates, which shut down last March for the rest of the academic year, is testing students three times each week to try to stay on top of any outbreaks.

McIntosh said some of the students sent home had violated arrival quarantine rules or had entered residence halls where they don’t live.

In his Friday note, McIntosh warned students that if they are found in a residence hall that isn’t their own or if they host “even a small, informal, maskless, close contact gathering,” they “will be required to return home and switched to remote learning for no less than four weeks.”

Any students “who break quarantine protocols will also be sent home for a minimum of four weeks,” he said.

“Egregious violations, or repeated violations of a lesser degree, will result in students being moved to remote learning for the duration of the semester or suspension,” McIntosh said. “There is simply too much at stake to not take these matters seriously.”

McIntosh said the college doesn’t want to send students away, but will do so “to increase our likelihood of being able to offer the on-campus experience for the remainder of the semester and honor the choices of the many students who have come back to campus and are working hard to adhere to public health guidelines.”

He said students have generally “done an amazing job of helping ensure that the on-campus experience could be carried out safely and successfully” since the start of the fall semester.

College administrators said they hope that the winter semester’s situation “will improve as the weather gets warmer and we are able to move more activities outside. But we are not there yet.”

McIntosh pointed out that “both on the Bates campus and at the broader local, state, and national levels, we are seeing significantly higher levels of community spread and higher positivity rates than we experienced for most of the fall. “

Worrisome new variants of COVID-19 are “making it much more likely that failing to adhere to public health practices is likely to result in outbreaks” on campus, he added.

McIntosh said that having so many students in isolation or quarantine poses a strain on staff. If it worsens, more restrictions may be required to keep the disease at bay.

McIntosh told students that college officials know they are “tired of the constant attention to public health” and the regulations that make it hard to spend time with friends.

“This is not the Bates experience that you imagined, or that we wanted for you,” he said. “But now is not the time to relax our behaviors or our expectations of one another as members of this campus community.”

But the rules requiring social distancing, masks and other steps were “the linchpin of our successful fall semester” and “given the current national and local landscape, these policies must remain in effect for the winter semester in order to give us the best chance possible to have a positive end to our academic year.”

McIntosh said the college recognizes “how challenging and isolating adhering to these public health guidelines can be” and has a range of support available, including counseling and multifaith chaplains.

“We are so close to getting through the worst of this crisis,” he said. “Every day brings promising news about vaccines: new versions, greater supply and increased access.”

McIntosh said students have been patient and understanding throughout and urged them not to cease their vigilance.

“We need you to stick with the behaviors that protect you, the people you care about, and the broader community,” he told students.

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