A quiet campus at Bowdoin College in late June. Shawn Patrick Oullette / Portland Press Herald

BRUNSWICK — Just days before the official start of the semester, Bowdoin College reported its first case of coronavirus after an out-of-state student learned while driving to campus on Saturday that they had tested positive, college officials said. 

The student notified the school before arriving and went directly to the college’s isolation facility, without visiting any other parts of campus or the town, according to a letter from Mike Ranen, Bowdoin’s COVID-19 resource coordinator, associate dean of student affairs and director of Residential and Student Life.

The student participated in the college’s pre-travel COVID-19 testing program the week of Aug. 17 and received a negative test result, Ranen said. Before leaving for school, the student took a second test, which came back positive. The student took the second test of their own volition, not as part of Bowdoin’s screening process, Bowdoin spokesman Scott Hood said Sunday. 

The student, a freshman, will remain in isolation with a private bathroom until cleared by health services. The student is not exhibiting any symptoms, according to Hood

Ranen commended the student for reporting the positive test result before arriving on campus and “being a great example for the rest of us in modeling the best practices for protecting the health and safety of the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities.” 

Bowdoin College welcomed back around 700 students, or 40% of the student body, for the start of the new school year on Saturday, including first-year students, some transfer students, residential life student workers, seniors working on honors projects that require campus resources and students “for whom working at home presents great challenges,” Doug Cook, a college spokesman said. All other students are learning remotely for the fall semester and, with the exception of freshmen writing seminars, classes will be conducted online.


All students were required to take a coronavirus test immediately upon their arrival before being allowed into the dorms and will be tested three times per week during their first two weeks on campus. They are required to self-quarantine in their rooms (with the exception of meal pick-up, personal exercise on the main campus, and orientation programming) until they are cleared by two negative test results. 

Following the first two weeks, all students will be tested twice per week until they leave campus for break the week before Thanksgiving. Students will finish the semester remotely. 

Bowdoin College is partnering with the Broad Institute in Massachusetts on a testing plan specifically designed for higher education. Matt Orlando, Bowdoin’s senior vice president for finance and administration, said in an earlier interview that the college ordered more than 35,000 tests for the 11-week period. 

Students will conduct the self-administered lower nasal swabs under the supervision of a trained staff member or health care professional in the college’s testing facility at the Morrell Gymnasium. Tests are sent back to the lab for testing and results are received in about 24 hours. Test result totals are posted on Bowdoin’s COVID-dashboard the following morning.

So far, Bowdoin is reporting 235 total tests and one positive result from outside the school’s testing facility. Results from Saturday’s tests will not be posted until Monday. 

Students living off campus and staff members that don’t regularly interact with students will be tested once weekly through a partnership with Mid Coast Hospital and NorDx Laboratories. 


Testing and tracing for the fall is expected to cost nearly $3 million, Orlando said. 

College officials announced last week that, starting Monday, Brunswick residents and other members of the public are banned from portions of Bowdoin College’s main campus to prevent the spread of coronavirus and limit distractions at outdoor classes.

The Longfellow playground, athletic fields and the trail systems that connect to the Town Commons and Brunswick Landing remain open. 

Other attractions, such as the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum, have been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic and will remain so. 

“What we’re hoping for and expecting is that our neighbors will understand why we’re doing this,” Hood said. “Our priorities are health and safety. … We will welcome folks back to campus as soon as we can.” 

The facilities and grounds at the Schiller Coastal Studies in Harpswell are also closed to the public, though trails marked by the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust remain open. 


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