Bowdoin College students will not be allowed to return to the Brunswick campus after spring break but will instead continue to attend classes remotely.
That move comes amid ongoing fears of the new coronavirus outbreak, though Maine health officials have yet to report a confirmed case of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
In a Wednesday morning announcement to the campus community, Bowdoin President Clayton Rose said no classes will be held on March 23 and March 24. When classes resume on March 25, students will attend them remotely.
Rose acknowledged that the switch to attending classes remotely may prove difficult for some students, but he said it is “the only way we can both confidently protect the health and safety of our community and allow our students to complete the semester with the least disruption possible in what is an extraordinary, very complicated, and uncertain situation.”
The University of Maine System will transition all classes to online instruction for the rest of the spring semester, and ask students living on campus to leave before spring break ends, according to a news release by university system spokesman Dan Demeritt Wednesday afternoon.
Bates College President Clayton Spencer said in a Tuesday message to the college that there are “no plans at this time to suspend our winter semester on campus.” The Lewiston-based college has no break planned between now and the end of the winter semester, on April 18.
A spokeswoman for Bates said in an email that “we continue to monitor developments and guidance from the CDC and other public health authorities, and the college will adjust policies and response as the situation evolves over the days ahead.”
A request for comment was left with a Colby College representative Wednesday morning.
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Rose said Wednesday that the Bowdoin’s “top priority” is to protect those students and staff who are more at risk to the coronavirus because of underlying medical conditions. He said the college lacks the resources to manage the isolation of students who are “likely to have been exposed to the virus while away.”
“The COVID-19 outbreak represents an unprecedented health crisis and is creating challenges for every aspect of our society. While there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Maine or among Bowdoin students, faculty, or staff, there is significant risk that, due to the highly contagious nature of this virus and the susceptibility of communal campus life, it is only a matter of time before it finds its way here,” Rose said.
“In light of this, we will need to complete the spring semester through remote learning, and students will not be permitted to return to campus from spring break,” Rose said, adding that the college will evaluate at a later date whether students can return to campus this semester
Bowdoin’s spring break began March 6 and runs through March 23.
Any students who have remained on campus during the spring break will have to vacate the campus by 5 p.m. March 18. Students who left campus for spring break will be allowed at a later date to return to gather their belongings.
Bowdoin also has canceled all admission and information tours for the remainder of the semester, and faculty and staff have been asked to refrain from college-sponsored travel. Any on-campus gatherings will be limited to fewer than 100 people.
At noon Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that an initial batch of 42 tests came back negative for the coronavirus, but health officials still await the results of another five tests.
That makes Maine the only New England state without a reported case of the coronavirus. There have been at least 92 reported in Massachusetts, five in New Hampshire, three in Rhode Island, two in Connecticut and one in Vermont. Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency, while Connecticut has declared a public health and civil preparedness emergency.
Nationally, the virus has sickened at least 647 people in 36 states and the District of Columbia and claimed 25 lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes two more in Washington state, which has recorded the most deaths from the illness in the U.S.