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College warns students against eating in restaurants, seeing families

After analyzing data from March Break and the following weeks, the College’s  COVID-19 Response Team recognized trends in COVID-19 transmission on campus coming from students eating in restaurants and seeing visitors. The College has since warned students against doing so.

In the past week, the College’s COVID-19 Response Team has identified and isolated ten new positive cases.

In an email to the student body, Dean of Students Barbara Moore shared these findings. Through an email conversation, The Colby Echo discussed these findings with Dean Moore and George Sopko, the College’s Director of Media Relations.

“The goal of the communication was to remind students that frequenting restaurants and bars and/or visiting family members has the potential to put our community at more risk of exposure to the virus. One of the most important lessons of the last several months is that while we cannot control the spread of the virus across the country and around the world, our personal behavior, day in and day out, determines the safety of our community and our ability to stay together,” they said.

The Colby Echo asked if the College would institute punishments for students who violate these expectations in the future.

“There are no current plans to change what are considered violations – and potential sanctions related to those violations – as stated in the College’s 2020-2021 COVID-19 Student Policy,” Moore and Sopko said.

Instead, the College will continue keeping an eye on the public health of the campus, the surrounding area and “the effectiveness of our policies and procedures to mitigate transmission.”

If outbreaks occur or community members break with the policies, “tighter restrictions and more aggressive mitigation measures will likely need to be implemented.”

Moore and Sopko believe that eating in restaurants and meeting family members are equally risky activities.

“Any activity that puts you in contact with people not in Colby’s testing bubble or exposes you to groups and gatherings where safety protocols are not being followed is dangerous and puts our entire community at risk,” they said.

 Students should diligently avoid activities outlined in the COVID-19 Student Policy. Moore and Sopko recommended that students look through the whole Student Policy, but highlighted three provisions: “Don’t organize, host, or attend events, parties, or other social gatherings on or off campus that are likely to create an increased risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19; don’t bring guests, including family members, friends, and partners, as well as Colby students or staff not authorized to be on campus (those who are not in the College’s testing regimen) to Colby; don’t exceed occupancy limits in campus buildings including all areas in residence halls.”

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to decrease across Maine and more people get vaccinated, Moore and Sopko remain optimistic about the rest of the spring semester.

“While many risks are still present, if we maintain our vigilance and commitment to safety the remainder of the semester should be great. If we sharpen this focus on keeping everyone safe, we should be in a good position to expand activities and opportunities in the weeks and months ahead,” they said.

 In closing, they emphasized the importance of community in combating COVID-19 transmission on campus. Essentially, continued compliance with the COVID-19 outbreak prevention protocols are critical to the College’s success.

“Our students have created a united front against COVID-19 that’s evolved into a campus wide initiative that’s been key to our success for being back on campus. Students have come together around one common goal that’s focused on working together and holding each other accountable to protect Mayflower Hill and to be able to remain together on campus,” they said.

They implored students not to stop: “That spirit and energy must continue or otherwise we risk following the path of other institutions, one which recently implemented a stay-in-place order for all of its undergraduates until the end of the month because of a major uptick in COVID-19 cases.”

In an interview with The Colby Echo, Molly Smith `21 gave her perspective on Moore’s email and the COVID-19 Response Team’s findings.

“I feel like people just need to be patient and wait until everything is safer before going out to eat. Because there are cases, it seems, of people getting it [COVID-19] inside the restaurant, which doesn’t seem worth the risk,” she said. “I feel weird about having the College impose things like that but, in this moment, they might need to take firmer actions against going out to eat.”

Like many students, Smith worries that eating at restaurants could expose the College to unnecessary risk.

“There could be a huge breakout because someone goes to a restaurant so the school probably should ban it but, again, I don’t know if I feel comfortable with them taking that big of a role in people’s daily lives … but they probably should,” she said.

Smith understands the desire of students to eat a good meal off campus, but those who can afford to do so are unnecessarily putting other people at risk.

“I understand wanting to eat something really good,” she said. “Going out to restaurants is a form of privilege as well.”

In regards to the meal pop-ups in the Spa, Smith believes that the College’s money could be better spent.

“That’s great, but also they should be putting their money towards better financial aid. But also, everyone needs a really good meal now and then,” she said.

~ Matt Rocha ‘23

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