A largely empty Bates College in April, after students were sent home because of COVID-19. Steve Collins/Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — Students at Bates College have been warned they might not be able to come back for the next semester in January.

Before they leave campus the day before Thanksgiving, the college has told students they should pack everything they’re leaving behind in shipping boxes that are ready to mail out.

“Your belongings will remain labeled and packed safely in your room,” Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life informed students this month. “Should public health conditions make it not possible for you to return in January, these labels will help us easily identify your belongings.”

The college tentatively plans to have all students return to campus for the first time after Thanksgiving on Jan. 8, when they’ll be tested for COVID-19 right away.

The college’s twice-a-week testing regimen has resulted in more than 24,500 tests for students this semester. Two came up positive and both students have recovered.

In addition, about 4,500 employee tests have been conducted. The one person who tested positive this month has recovered, according to the dashboard that Bates updates almost daily.

Though the pandemic has treated Bates gently so far, officials aren’t counting on the disease to remain at bay.

In his message to students, McIntosh told them they’ll be welcomed back in January “assuming it remains safe to do so.”

He said the Jan. 8 target is subject to change as the college polishes off its planning for the upcoming semester. It anticipates setting a firm schedule by early December.

Bates’ fall semester doesn’t end at Thanksgiving. It simply shifts to remote learning until the end of final exams in December.

School officials said they didn’t want to risk having students exposed to COVID-19 while they’re home with their families, or elsewhere, over the extended Thanksgiving break who would then bring the disease back to campus.

Since Maine has among the lowest infection rates in the country, almost anywhere students go poses more risk than staying in Lewiston.

When students leave, McIntosh said, they should take “any essential and valuable personal items” with them.

They should also organize, pack and label for shipping “all items left behind in your room,” he said.

He said that if Bates needs to shift to remote learning next semester, it would mail belongings to those who live too far to come fetch them.

International students, who face travel restrictions coming from the COVID-plagued United States and perhaps obstacles to their return, are allowed to stay on campus until the start of the next semester.

Bates closed its campus in March after the pandemic hit, sending students away to finish the spring semester remotely. It reopened at the end of August.


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