Campus life at several Maine colleges and universities will look anything but normal when students, staff and faculty members return from winter break next month.

Concerned about the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, many schools in Maine, the Northeast and around the country are tightening rules to reduce transmission.

Bates College in Lewiston announced Wednesday that it will start the new semester remotely and restrict activities, in addition to requiring that students get COVID booster shots. Bates students will also have to get their dining hall meals to go and wear face coverings indoors.

The measures being taken on Maine campuses reflect a regional and national effort to reduce the spread of COVID and keep in-person classes going as long as possible.

The University of Massachusetts announced Tuesday that COVID-19 boosters will be required of students and staff at all campuses. The UMass system has 75,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff members.

Providence College in Rhode Island announced this week that it expects students, faculty and staff to receive boosters before Feb. 1. Several institutions in New York State are enacting booster mandates for students, including Cornell University, Ithaca College and the University of Rochester. Loyola College in Chicago, Notre Dame University and the University of New Mexico, to name a few schools, are also making booster shots mandatory.

The stricter requirements come as the highly transmissible omicron variant becomes the dominant source of COVID infections nationally, and is expected to dominate Maine cases within days.

Maine reported 1,325 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 18 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 331, up slightly from 330 Tuesday but down from a peak of 387 on Dec. 21.

Saint Joseph’s College in Standish appears to have been the first college in Maine to mandate booster shots for all students, faculty and staff. Spokesman Oliver Griswold said the booster mandate went into effect Oct. 4. When students return from winter break on Jan. 15, they must wear masks indoors for at least two weeks.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, which resumes classes on Jan. 24, will require students, staff and faculty to receive booster shots before Jan. 21. A booster clinic will be held on campus the week of Jan. 17.

“The vaccines are highly effective and are our most powerful tools in protecting the health and safety of everyone here and in Brunswick,” Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose said in a message to the Bowdoin community this month.

Bates College announced Wednesday that in addition to requiring boosters for students by Jan. 10, it will prohibit visitors from entering campus buildings, including at athletic events, musical performances and art exhibits. Students will have to get meals “grab and go” from the dining hall, and remote learning will be in place for at least the first few days after students return from winter break.

“We plan to return to in-person classes as soon as conditions on campus permit, which we hope will be early in the semester,” said Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life. But conditions might make a return to near normal operations impossible, he added.

The University of Maine System has implemented measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings must be worn at all indoor venues through March, and are recommended at outdoors gatherings. In addition, students are required to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated, unless they have an exemption, before they attend in-person classes. The requirement will remain in effect through May, according to the policy posted on the Together for Maine webpage.

The University of New England has enacted several protocols for the spring semester, college President James D. Herbert announced Wednesday. Everyone who works or studies on the Biddeford or Portland campus must receive a booster by Feb. 16. Double masking is also being mandated during the first week of the semester, which for undergraduates begins Jan. 17.

“It has become increasingly clear that we as a society have entered a new phase of this pandemic in which we simply will not be able to avoid transmission of the virus entirely on our campuses, as we have strived to do up to this point,” Herbert said. “However, we will rely on the above mitigation measures to slow its spread, with full vaccination (including the booster dose) being the cornerstone of our strategy.”

Beginning Feb. 1, all students, faculty and staff at Colby College will be considered vaccinated provided they have received their booster shot if eligible by Feb. 1, according to a statement by Colby.

Colby students will also be required to wear masks indoors, except while eating or alone in their residence halls. Social gatherings on and off campus must be limited to 10 people, and spectators at indoor athletic events will be restricted to those covered by the college’s testing protocols. Students must undergo COVID testing three times a week.

The Maine Community College System now requires that all students attending classes in person get booster shots within a month of becoming eligible. In addition, COVID testing will be required of the roughly 1,000 students who live in community college residence halls. Residence hall students must provide proof of a negative test taken 72 hours or less before their arrival from winter break. Maine’s community colleges will resume classes on Jan. 17 or later.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Steve Collins contributed to this story


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