LEWISTON – In response to a fast-spreading variant of COVID-19, Bates College officials said Wednesday that it will clamp down on campus to try to limit the impact of the highly contagious omicron strain.

Geoffrey Swift, vice president for finance and administration, told students and staff that new policies include a more stringent approach for initial testing when students return, booster requirements for students and a return to the “grab and go dining” that were in place during the last academic year but not during the fall semester.

Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life, told students that “one of the more vulnerable times for the college community will be during student arrival back to campus and managing through the first several days.”

As a consequence, at least the first few days of class will be done remotely despite the presence of most students on campus.

“We plan to return to in-person classes as soon as conditions on campus permit, which we hope will be early in the semester,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh raised the possibility, though, that conditions might make a return to near normal operations impossible.


“There remains a great deal of uncertainty about the course of the pandemic in the weeks and months ahead,” he said in a message to students. “Our intention is to offer in-person classes and continue to support cocurricular activities, making adaptations, as necessary, in the interest of the health and well-being of our community.”

“However, it is important to note that we may need to switch to remote learning at times during the semester to mitigate transmission of the virus and manage new cases of infection,” he said. “We want to make sure that students understand these contingencies and feel free to make alternate plans.”

Other policy changes on tap at Bates include a prohibition on guests and visitors in campus building, including attendance at athletic events, musical performances and art exhibits.

Even faculty and staff will be barred from exercising at Bates’ athletic facilities.

“Our goal is to maintain the layers of public health protection — particularly vaccination, testing, indoor masking and limitations on outside visitors,” Swift said.

Bates has sought to fend off serious outbreaks of COVID-19 that could threaten to shut down the campus and send students home to study remotely, which happened in March 2020 when the pandemic first hit.


Since students returned to Lewiston for the fall semester that year, the college has engaged in a lot of testing, imposed vaccination requirements on students and relied on a host of rules about masking, distancing and travel that have shifted as the disease waxed and waned.

Even so, at least 45 Bates students tested positive for COVID-19 at some point during the fall semester, along with more than two dozen faculty or staff members. The school has more than 1,800 students and more than 900 employees.

Swift said in his message Wednesday that omicron, which has more than doubled the average number of new cases in less than two weeks, is “considerably more transmissible than the delta variant” seen in recent months, even for people who are considered fully vaccinated.

Getting a booster, which students must do when they are eligible, “offers protection against both initial infection and strong protection against severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death,” Swift said.

Swift said omicron presents “new challenges for residential settings, where students live in congregate housing and eat together.”

“Accordingly, we must take a more stringent approach to the winter semester’s student arrival testing and onboarding period in January,” he said, to “help us understand our baseline situation and limit the level of COVID-19 transmission on campus.”

“One of the most effective strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is to know when you have the disease so that you can limit your contact with others. Therefore, employees are strongly encouraged to test regularly — once a week for those frequently on campus,” Swift added.

Bates is setting up testing times and dates for employees at its relocated testing center at the Muskie Archives.

The college is leaving in place its rule that Bates students and staff, whatever their vaccination status, must wear masks indoors except when eating at a college-sponsored event or in private space.

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