A sign at an entrance of Bowdoin College on Thursday. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

After two semesters of remote, hybrid and unconventional learning, Niña Ramores is looking forward to studying in a Bowdoin College classroom for the first time ever.

“I’ve never seen a Bowdoin classroom in all of its glory,” said Ramores, 18, a sophomore from Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  “I think having a fully vaccinated campus allows us to create sort of like this bubble, where we all know we are safe and protected.”

For the first semester since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bowdoin College officials are preparing to welcome the entire student body back onto the Brunswick campus.

While the official move in date for upper-class students is Aug. 29, some students will begin to move in as early as this weekend. There will be around 1,960 students at Bowdoin this year.

This will also be the first semester during the pandemic where no remote-learning option is available, and students will be required to study in-person. Bowdoin held class before through either a remote or in-person, hybrid learning model to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Vaccines are required for all students and staff, which, according to COVID-19 Resource Coordinator Mike Ranen, is the cornerstone of the back-to-campus plan.

“We are confident that having a just about fully vaccinated community of students, faculty and staff will limit the number of COVID-19 cases on campus,” Ranen said.

Ranen said that the vaccination rate among students and staff is nearing 100%, with a handful of students who have applied for a medical exemption.

Like past semesters, the college will operate under different classification levels that are based on COVID-19 cases. The classifications will indicate the degree of pandemic-related restrictions.

As of Thursday, the campus is not requiring masks indoors for vaccinated individuals, although the rules outline some exceptions, such as large gatherings like a convocation ceremony. Ranen said that he hopes the college will remain under these guidelines for reopening, but the pandemic is unpredictable.

According to Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long, the state does not have COVID-19 recommendations specific to college and university reopening.

“Bowdoin College has been a good and responsible partner in limiting potential spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” wrote Long in an email. “The college’s plan recognizes that vaccination is the best tool to limit potential risk.”

Long added however that as of Thursday, the U.S. CDC designates the transmission risk in Cumberland County as substantial, which corresponds with a recommendation that everyone, regardless of vaccination, wear a mask in indoor, public settings.

“College administrators are best equipped to determine which facilities on campus would be considered public settings,” Long wrote.

Non-Bowdoin guests are not allowed in residence halls. With some exceptions, museums, college stores, athletic facilities and libraries are only open to the campus community. Staff members have the discretion to require face coverings in their classes or at other events.

“Many people will choose to wear masks, and we need to respect that decision,” Ranen said. “We are encouraging people to do what they feel is safe for them.”

COVID-19 testing will be required for all students upon arrival, and students will be tested again three and five days after arriving. A testing protocol will also be in place throughout the semester.

“I would say I am a little concerned,” said Bowdoin College sophomore Jordyn Birmingham, 19, of Atlanta, Georgia, citing the uptick in cases due to the more-contagious delta variant.

Birmingham said that because of the high vaccination rate at Bowdoin and the surrounding area, she does think the college is taking the right approach and the delta variant seriously.

Students will also be able to leave campus for personal reasons, such as visiting the downtown area, if cases and restrictions remain low.

“Many of the tourists are leaving around the same time as the Bowdoin students are coming back,” said Brunswick Downtown Association Executive Director Debora King, noting the significant role that Bowdoin College plays in the local economy. “They bring such energy to the entire community — not just the downtown area.”

According to the Maine Department of Labor, Bowdoin College was the ninth largest employer in Cumberland County and the 18th largest statewide during the second quarter of 2020.

In the 2019 fiscal year, salaries to local Midcoast residents totaled $58.3 million and the college paid $72,307 in property taxes, according to their website.

In total, there have been 47 cases of COVID-19 recorded in Bowdoin College’s testing protocol.

According to the Maine CDC, 69.55% of Maine residents have received a final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday, the CDC estimates that 99% of eligible Brunswick residents are vaccinated.

As of Thursday, 72,118 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in total statewide, alongside 903 deaths. In Cumberland County, 17,864 have been reported, with 206 deaths.


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