In a significant shift to campus COVID-19 restrictions, administrators eliminated the remaining masking requirement in most on-campus settings. Administrators also announced hopes to abandon surveillance PCR testing for the entire student body in favor of rapid antigen testing limited to students who are symptomatic for Covid-19. In an email to the campus community on Wednesday, President Clayton Rose wrote that a shift in testing would be contingent on continued low numbers of cases on campus and an official change would not take effect for a few weeks.
As of yesterday, masks were made optional in all buildings on campus, with a few exceptions. The masking requirement will continue to be in effect in the Health Center, the Bowdoin Children’s Center and the testing center at Farley Field House. Additionally, masking in classrooms will be up to the discretion of the professor. This change in policy applies to all students, staff and faculty, as well as vaccinated members of the public.
Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Arielle Saiber plans to consult her students on her decision regarding masks in class.
“If there is even one student who is uncomfortable being unmasked, I will require masking. It is an important decision to make as a community,” Saiber said.
Citing lingering Covid-19 cases on campus and the prevalence of professors with children under the age of five who are ineligible for the vaccine, Associate Professor of History Meghan Roberts strongly disagreed with the College’s decision.
“I have serious concerns about removing the mask mandate … symptoms of long Covid-19 would make [me] unable to do my job. [Additionally] I am frustrated that President Rose did not ask students to understand that professors might be coming from a different place on this issue and encourage them to empathize with that,” Roberts said.
Will Hausmann ’22 is excited by the possibility of going mask-less in class.
“When you’re in class, to be able to see your fellow classmates thinking, and see them smile, it’s what learning is all about,” Hausmann said. “Throughout this year masking in class has been a small but frustrating barrier to connecting with other students and my professors.”
In his email, President Rose stressed that Bowdoin remains a “mask-friendly” campus and students are encouraged to continue wearing masks indoors if they desire. In a follow-up email to the campus community, Associate Dean for Academic Administration Mike Ranen stressed that any decisions to end surveillance PCR testing were not final and bi-weekly testing was still mandatory for the time being.
The College has required bi-weekly PCR testing for the entire student body since it first invited students back to campus in the fall of 2020. A shift to only testing symptomatic students would move Bowdoin ahead of peer institutions in the NESCAC, such as Bates and Colby College, in their return to normalcy and would bring the College more in line with average college testing protocols around the country.
According to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Matthew Orlando, the College has spent 1.3 million dollars on bi-weekly PCR testing for asymptomatic students so far this academic year. Specifically, this figure represents the testing done through the Broad Institute and does not include the cost of physician orders, couriers, testing center staffing and other related expenses.
Associate Professor of Government and Asian Studies Henry Laurence plans to continue requiring masks in his classes due to an ongoing health problem that makes him particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. He expressed his concerns about lifting the mask mandate.
“Having classroom masking at the discretion of the professor would be unfair to students taking unmasked classes who have increased vulnerability to covid for whatever reason. Such a situation would be highly stressful as well as dangerous for vulnerable students who may well not feel confident enough to ask the professor to change policy and require masking,” Laurence said. “I would hope that the needs of those of us with heightened vulnerability … are fully considered by all concerned.”