Colby College students are slated to begin returning to the Waterville campus Aug. 21. They will face a rigorous medical protocol to maintain their health and keep the coronavirus at bay. Above, Miller Library at Colby. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — Colby College students will return to campus two weeks earlier than usual this year and be required to follow rigorous health and safety rules developed as part of a $10 million effort that is to include administering 85,000 coronavirus tests to students, faculty and staff in the fall semester.

Colby President David A. Greene announced Tuesday in a prepared statement to the Colby community that the semester will begin Aug. 26 and end Nov. 24, just before Thanksgiving, with the student reading period and final exams to be conducted remotely.

Students will arrive on campus according to a staggered schedule, with freshmen arriving between Aug. 21 and 24.

Developing the opening plan involved an “enormous amount of work” and input from 50 faculty members, 10 different task forces and external medical professionals to ensure the health and safety of the Colby community and all of Waterville, Greene said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

“We care about the people of Waterville, we care about the Colby community and we want to make sure that we’re doing the very best by everyone,” Greene said.

Students may choose to return to campus or study remotely, according to Greene, who said he thinks many of the 2,000 students who attend Colby will attend in person, gauging by the feedback he has received from students and parents.

Colby students who choose to continue taking classes remotely will be charged a smaller comprehensive fee than that assessed on students who live off campus, according to college officials.

About 10% of Colby’s students come from Maine, 10% are international students from 70 countries and the rest come from throughout the United States. Greene said some international students are already in the country — they live here for the four years they are in college — and some may not be able to attend Colby in person this year due to travel restrictions.

Students will be spaced apart in classrooms and many fall classes will be held outdoors, when the weather is appropriate, he said. Some faculty members will teach remotely because of health or other reasons, but plans call for most classes to be taught in person.

To ensure more space for student housing, the 53-room Lockwood Hotel that Colby in building in downtown Waterville will be used as a student residence for the 2020-21 school year, and 100 students and three staff members will live there, according to Greene.

Construction progresses Tuesday at the Lockwood Hotel, left, in downtown Waterville. To provide more space for student accommodations, 100 Colby College students will live at the hotel for the 2020-21 school year. The hotel is expected to be completed this fall. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The building is expected to be ready when students arrive in August, although they will use dormitory furniture and temporary carpets, but the restaurant will not be completed, Greene said. Another 200 students and staff members will live at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.

Everyone in the Colby community will be required to do a daily self-assessment on a mobile application, a practice that has proven effective in capturing early symptoms of virus at health centers across the country, according to Greene.

“Students with indicators of risk to the community will be required to quarantine pending test results, and faculty and staff will be asked to remain at home until negative test results are confirmed,” he said.

“We are designing a comprehensive contact tracing operation to support our testing program and minimize the chance of outbreaks. We will require face coverings, a simple but effective means of limiting transmission of the virus, in most spaces, including classrooms and campus buildings.

“We are reassigning classrooms to allow for distancing, spreading out courses more evenly throughout the day and into the evening, and using outdoor spaces during warmer months.”

Colby’s dining program has been altered to include an expanded “Take-4” to-go program with longer hours and adjustments to dining hall procedures, reduced seating and elimination of most self-serve options. Cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be significantly enhanced throughout campus and will include frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces and use of hospital-grade cleaners.

“We are fortunate to be partnering with exceptional teams and organizations to inform our planning for reopening, including an epidemiological team from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, medical leadership from Massachusetts General Hospital and MaineGeneral Health and the COVID-19 testing program at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard,” Greene said in his statement.

“The plan we have developed in concert with our partners and through broad consultation of campus groups is a multilayered, integrated approach to safety that will continue to evolve according to the latest scientific knowledge and developments.”

A critical component, he said, is robust testing to drastically reduce the possibility of community transmission. That testing program will be administered through the Broad Institute and likely will be among the most extensive offered in higher education, according to Greene. All members of the campus community, including students, faculty, and staff, must take part, he said.

“Students will be tested prior to arrival with test kits provided by Colby, and all community members will be tested three times during the opening weeks of the semester,” he said in his statement. “Thereafter, everyone will be tested twice per week, a rate that scientific models have demonstrated will greatly limit the spread of the virus by detecting infections in individuals prior to them becoming contagious.

“To put this in perspective, we expect to administer roughly 85,000 tests in the first semester alone, a number that almost equals the total number of tests administered in the entire state of Maine since the start of the pandemic.”

The “polymerase chain reaction” Colby plans to use is minimally invasive and easily self-administered in the lower nasal cavity, according to Greene.

“Students, faculty and staff will bring their testing kits to a campus collection point on their designated testing days,” he said. “Test results will be returned to the individual and the College within 24 hours, allowing for any required mitigation efforts to be instituted quickly.

“We have leased additional housing for quarantine and isolation of students, who will be provided with a range of support services, including facilitating their coursework, attention to medical and mental health, and food delivery.”

 

‘BE READY TO ADAPT’

Colby required students to leave campus in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They then finished their classes remotely.

Asked whether the college, which also has 1,000 faculty and staff, might close if there were an outbreak, or at what point Colby would alter its plans, Greene said if health care facilities were to become overburdened, Colby would take very strong action, including sending students home.

The majority of the students are at an age where they are at very low risk to need hospitalization, even if infected, he said. It is important for students to be isolated and have medical care, and Colby is providing a facility where they could recover, according to Greene.

Meanwhile, major changes were made to Colby’s visitation and travel policies as part of the opening plan. Professional travel for faculty and staff will largely be eliminated, and people must declare any necessary travel out of state with the understanding that a return to campus might require a quarantine period, according to the plans.

Colby College President David A. Greene explains the college’s economic impact on the Waterville area in October 2019. In a prepared statement released Tuesday announcing Colby students will return to campus in August, Greene wrote, “We cannot put one another at unreasonable risk, and we certainly cannot do that to our neighbors in Waterville.” Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Students will be asked to stay on campus during October break. The college plans to offer programs designed to help students to decompress during that midsemester time off.

“While it is impossible to entirely close off our campus, we will not have campus visitation for admissions or visiting speakers, and we will not be allowing families and friends to visit as we normally do,” Greene said. “Our major fall events, such as Family Homecoming Weekend, will not be held, and our most public-facing venues, like the Colby College Museum of Art and the athletics center, will, for the time being, be closed to the public.”

Colby’s new, $200 million Harold Alfond Athletic Center is scheduled to open in the fall, and Greene said he thought Colby will be able to find opportunities for student-athletes, although it is difficult to say now how Colby athletics will work in the upcoming school year.

“The presidents of the NESCAC institutions have agreed to implement flexible rules for athletics this year that should provide for exciting opportunities for our student athletes and coaches, even if the normal schedule for competitions is likely to be disrupted,” Greene said.

“These programs, and the overall health of our community, will be supported by our beautiful athletics and recreation center opening in August.”

Colby’s spring semester is expected to follow the regular schedule, he said, with students taking part in Jan plan and classes starting in February, but Colby remains flexible. The college’s operational motto, according to Greene, is “Be Ready to Adapt.”

His statement to the Colby community called on everyone to help ensure a safe environment as students and staff return to campus.

“There is no doubt in my mind that our community is strongest when we are together, but every one of us has to realize that we can only stay together if we have an unbreakable, shared commitment to following the safety protocols assiduously and always acting in the best interest of the community,” Greene said.

“We cannot put one another at unreasonable risk, and we certainly cannot do that to our neighbors in Waterville.”

Greene said he asked Colby’s Student Government Association to help establish a social compact to which everyone can agree and all would sign.

“Like many of you, I have read the articles warning of students misbehaving and flouting safety rules, and I am not naive to the challenges of widespread conformity with rules that restrict student behavior,” Greene said. “However, I also believe in the goodness and empathy of our community, and I know that we can draw on the very best parts of ourselves to protect one another and the chance to stay together to benefit from Colby’s rich and transformative education.”

More information will be forthcoming and available on Colby’s return-to-campus website — covid19.colby.edu.

Greene encouraged the Colby community to reach out to deans and other staff members with questions about the planned changes or about individual circumstances.

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