LEWISTON — While Bates College requires that its students be vaccinated for COVID-19 before the fall semester begins, it is leaving the door open, at least for now, for its employees to skip being inoculated.

ates College students gather this spring after the end of a 12-day lockdown of the Lewiston campus spurred by the need to stymie a COVID-19 outbreak. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Employees were told last week that they needed to provide information by Tuesday about their vaccination status to the college, either evidence they’d received one of the approved vaccines or that they have not.

The college told its staff they are “strongly encouraged to be vaccinated” but opted, at least for now, to offer them the option of going without.

Those who skip the vaccines will be required to wear masks inside any college buildings, unless they are alone, and to use them whenever they can’t maintain enough distance from co-workers and students.

Face coverings and social distancing are no longer required for anyone who is vaccinated, though the college said anyone who wants to keep wearing a mask is free to do so. It asked everyone to make no assumptions about why somebody is wearing one.

Many colleges, including Bowdoin College in Brunswick, are mandating that students and staff get vaccinated. Most are requiring students to do so.

Geoffrey Swift, the vice president for finance and administration at Bates, told employees in a June 30 memo that “all pandemic-related policies are subject to change should circumstances warrant,” so it’s possible the policy could change.

Bates plans this fall to return to near-normal operations after three semesters of disruption, including one that saw students sent home at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

When students come back to campus in September, Swift said, it will return “to pre-pandemic densities in work areas,” lift restrictions on the number of people allowed in various spaces and schedule classes at pre-pandemic sizes.

Among the New England Small College Athletic Conference schools, at least Bowdoin, Middlebury, Amherst and Williams are requiring employees as well as students to be vaccinated before the fall semester begins.

Colby College in Waterville has not yet said what requirements it will impose.

Its last word is that students “may be required to be vaccinated for the 2021-22 academic year, subject to limited exceptions (e.g., medical, religious). At this time, faculty and staff are strongly urged to receive the vaccine. But for now, it is not required of faculty and staff.”

Bates said unvaccinated employees who fail to follow the rules, or lie about their vaccination status, will be subject to unnamed disciplinary action.

It said that having had COVID-19 is not considered the equivalent of getting the vaccine.

Students were told May 11 that they would have to get vaccinated in order to return for the fall semester.

“The very nature of our residential community makes this requirement necessary to protect the health of students and the broader Bates and local communities,” Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life, told students in an email.

“In addition, having a fully vaccinated student body puts us in a better position to return to the many activities and experiences that existed on our campus before the pandemic, but were not possible this academic year,” he added.

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