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COVID-19 cases rise dramatically

COVID-19 cases at Colby have spiked significantly over the past week, with 276 students and 19 faculty and staff members in isolation as of May 2. This is approximately 12% of campus. There were between 44 and 66 reported new cases each day during the week of April 25, which is the largest COVID-19 outbreak at the College to date.

“As many of you know, due to the higher transmissibility of the latest Omicron sub variants, we have seen an increase in the number of active COVID cases over the past week, particularly among students,” Dean Karlene Burrell McRae ’94 wrote in an email to the College. “This follows the trend of higher cases in Maine and at many peer institutions.”

As of May 2, Maine has averaged 435 new cases per day over the last week. Bates has 70 students and 8 faculty members in isolation. At Bowdoin, 36 students and 15 faculty members are in isolation.

The College made a number of policy and administrative changes in response to the College’s case spike, which were outlined in emails from Burrell McRae.

Foss dining hall closed for the remainder of the academic year on Friday, April 29.

“This is one week earlier than is normally the case,” wrote Burrell McRae. “This change will provide significant relief to dining staff and allow them to better support students in the dining halls and isolation housing.”

Though many students who frequent Foss were disappointed, they also understood the need for the early closure.

The release policy for those in isolation was also updated.

“Individuals testing positive for COVID-19 must complete a six-day isolation period and, if they are symptom-free on day six, they will be released from isolation,” Burrell McRae wrote. “Under CDC guidelines and College protocols, those released from isolation must still wear KN95 masks, provided by the College, through day 10.”

Previously, students were eligible for release on the fifth day of isolation pending a negative antigen test result. Now, antigen tests are only required for symptomatic cases.

The twice-weekly testing requirement has not changed.

There is not enough isolation housing to accommodate every student who has tested positive. Because of this, some students are allowed to isolate themselves in their rooms and apartments.

Many students are confused by these changing protocols and feel that there is a disconnect between the decision to continue with the testing regimen while simultaneously removing most COVID-19 restrictions.

“It seems like the College kept the testing program entirely to say that they are continuing to test and monitor cases in the Colby community. It seems like a PR move,” Eli Silberman ’23 said.

Some students cited similar institutions that have chosen to end both testing and restrictions at the same time, and said that Colby should have done the same.

Some also feel that discontinuing testing would align with national movements to eliminate restrictions, such as the removal of mask mandates on airplanes and in airports.

Not all students agree. “I’d like them to keep up testing, because it makes me feel more uncomfortable being unmasked. We’re all returning to family, and if I brought it home, it’d be really bad,” Haydn Sage ’23 said.

Both faculty and students have also expressed that, though uncontrollable, the COVID-19 spike came at an unfortunate time.

“If students and faculty were not already burned out enough, this week’s COVID-19 spike has really put the nail in the coffin,” Sol Treister ’23 said. “Between being surrounded by COVID-19 and feeling like I could get it any day while also balancing my commitments to end of year projects and in class presentations it’s hard to determine where my priorities lie and what my responsibilities are.”

Many courses have moved online for the remainder of the semester, and some professors have removed or changed assignments in order to relieve stress on students who are sick or spent time in isolation.

~ Elsa Russel `22

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