In the US, the coronavirus pandemic is breaking records nearly every day. The reopening plan released on June 30 was constructed on the premise that the pandemic would be managed by August 2020. Bates adopted a modular calendar that would increase flexibility to respond to unforeseen circumstances such as this broader resurgence of the virus.
A phased opening starting with a fraction of the student body invited to campus, depending on their individual needs, will ensure much greater safety of the community by having a lower campus density, ensure that the testing capacity is at par with needs, and give us the ability to observe and learn about the challenges of campus living in a controlled manner. Depending on the state of the pandemic in our campus community and that outside, we could make a more informed and safer decision to invite additional students to campus in Module B.
Reasons to consider scaled-back and phased reopening include:
- In the US, the daily new cases at present are nearly three times as many as they were in early April. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently declared that the disease is "out of control".
- The current reopening plan was developed under the assumption that the US would bring the spread of Covid-19 under control by the end of the summer, which no longer applies.
- The Lewiston/Auburn area has the highest per-capita Covid-19 caseload in the state of Maine, which could both contribute to and/or be exacerbated by an outbreak on campus.
- There is a real possibility of transmission from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. Coupled with this, some diagnostic tests have high false-negative rates. A recent outbreak occurred at the Central Maine Medical Center starting with an individual whose test returned a false-negative result.
- In recent weeks, outbreaks have occurred in other residential campuses across the country, some of which had both strict mask-wearing and universal testing protocols.
- A growing number of institutions, including Dickinson College, Rhodes College, Occidental College, Spelman College, and Morehouse College have reversed initial plans to reopen in-person and will be fully remote. Rhodes College, which has a similar endowment as Bates, announced they will be remote in the fall due to public health concerns and infrastructural limitations.
- Much, if not all of our existing building infrastructure provides inadequate air flow to prevent stagnant air. The Mayo Clinic experts unambiguously pointed to the importance of good air-flow in enclosed spaces like classrooms, in addition to social-distancing and masks.
- The Bates Fall Plan's proposed density of student dorms exceeds the American College Health Association's guidelines of one student per room.
- Hundreds of students will need to simultaneously take their masks off indoors to eat in the dining halls multiple times per day. Close contacts in other communal spaces such as hallways, lounges, and bathrooms, are inevitable.
- Partying and other social behavior that has historically been part of many Bates students' experiences is highly likely and has caused recent "super-spreader" events in other college communities. Even though Bates has issued consequences of students failing to abide by guidelines, the difficulty in enforcing these guidelines both undermines the health and safety of students and potentially carries serious privacy and bias issues.
- The company hired to carry out the testing, Broad Institute, has so far only conducted ~300,000 tests cumulatively with a maximum of 8,000 tests in a single-day. Broad officials say they could ramp up to 100,000 tests a day within a few weeks to accommodate the many colleges and universities on its client list. We think this degree of scaling-up testing capacity in the short time frame would be extremely difficult and would likely not succeed.
- As of July 26, there is an "insurmountable" backlog of tests. In Massachusetts, turnaround times exceed one week. Dickinson College cited testing delays in its decision to rescind its plan to open in-person.