Parker Hall, the oldest dormitory at Bates College in Lewiston, is quiet this week as students are quarantined in their rooms to stop the spread of COVID-19. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — To stop the sudden spread of COVID-19 on campus, Bates College officials imposed a lockdown Thursday requiring the school’s almost 1,800 students to remain mostly inside their rooms until at least next Tuesday.

Faced with a coronavirus surge that is easily the worst outbreak Bates has seen since the pandemic began more than a year ago, college officials barred students from going anywhere, except to get food from the dining hall or a delivery driver, use the restroom, go to the doctor or a few other options, including required testing.

Bates officials said the college has 34 active student cases in isolation housing and another 50 students, who were close contacts, in quarantine. Those officials said they expect the number of quarantined students to increase as the college continues contact tracing.

A week ago, Bates had one student in isolation housing.

Joshua McIntosh, vice president of campus life, told students that beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday, they could not leave campus or their residential room, save for limited reasons, until Tuesday afternoon.

“Please know that this decision was not made lightly, but it is necessary to protect our campus and the broader community,” he told students.

McIntosh called the lockdown a “temporary, campuswide, in-room restriction to significantly reduce in-person interactions.” He urged students to take it seriously. Sports are suspended until the college decides they can be played safely.

McIntosh said the college needed to “stabilize the spread of COVID-19 on campus” because of “a sudden, sharp rise in cases” since last weekend.

While the college provided no information about the cause of the surge in cases, McIntosh last week warned students that its administration had “received a number of reports from neighbors and others regarding off-campus social gatherings where individuals were not adhering to our public health guidelines” and observed “more and more students not wearing face coverings or practicing physical distancing.”

McIntosh told students Thursday that all classes will be held remotely until at least Wednesday, and perhaps longer. The college will reevaluate what to do after it sees the results of COVID tests Monday.

It has suspended all activities, including use of the library and gymnasium.

Bates officials said on-campus religious observances for holidays, including Passover and Easter, will be virtual so students do not have to leave their rooms.

“I am very sorry that we need to take these actions at such a stressful point in the semester,” officials told students in a message Thursday.

It said Bates needs students’ help “in adhering strictly to these guidelines so that we succeed in containing this outbreak.”

Students who violate the new restrictive rules, or existing ones related to COVID-19, will likely be removed from college housing and switched to remote learning for the rest of the semester, McIntosh said.

The college set aside 113 rooms for isolation housing at the start of the fall semester. It has never needed more than 13 of them, until this week.

The announcement Thursday by Gov. Janet Mills that everybody 16 or older is eligible for vaccines beginning April 7 opens the door to the possibility Bates might be able to immunize its students soon.

“If the state of Maine provides Bates with vaccines to administer to our students, faculty, and staff, we are prepared to host a clinic for members of the Bates community,” the college wrote on its website.

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