With five probable cases of swine flu in Maine, Bowdoin has revisited and updated its emergency response procedures.
"We are taking steps to deal with a possible outbreak," said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster in an e-mail to the Orient.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MCDC) announced the state's first three probable cases of the H1N1 strain of swine flu on Wednesday. Three more were announced yesterday, while one of Wednesday's cases turned out to be seasonal flu.
Three of the swine flu cases were in Kennebunk, a town in York County about 50 miles southwest of Brunswick. One was in Kennebec County, in central Maine, and the last was in the northeast part of the state, in Penobscot County.
Since the beginning of this week, a small group of College staff and administrators has been working to update Bowdoin's pandemic response plan, which was developed during the avian flu scare of 2004 through 2007. Modified to reflect the threat posed by the swine flu, the plan was released to the public last night on the Bowdoin Web site.
Thus far, according to Foster, the College's actions have amounted to the revisions to the response plan, as well as efforts to keep people informed about the spread and prevention of swine flu. Also, Foster added, the health center is preparing to cope with a potential increase in flu cases.
As of Thursday afternoon, Dudley Coe had conducted three H1N1 tests, and all were negative.
According to the guidelines released last night, the College's actions during an epidemic are directed by a four-phase response plan. Currently, judging from the status of the outbreak and Bowdoin's response, the College appears to be somewhere between phases two and three, with the fourth phase characterized by "widespread human-to-human campus transmission."
The responses to phase two are more focused on education and preparation, while phase three calls for more preventive measures, like quarantining and testing of suspicious cases.
In phase four, the campus emergency management plan is activated, and responses are more dramatic, like canceling athletic events and giving parents the option of bringing their children home.
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Katy Longley stressed that the phases are meant to act as a set of guidelines, rather than prescribing specific responses to certain events.
"It's not supposed to be completely wooden," she said. "It's supposed to have flexibility so that we have a road map."
One potential concern over the next few weeks is school closure. Currently, state guidelines call for a one-week shutdown of any public school with a probable case of swine flu in a student. In Kennebunk, an elementary school and a day care center were closed on Thursday, as two of the cases in York County were among children who attend them.
However, in a press conference on Wednesday, Maine Chief Health Officer Dora Anne Mills said that private schools would be dealt with differently.
"We have to be sensitive to their individual situation," Mills said, "because they have different student bodies and have different types of dorms."
Former Director of Health Services Dr. Jeff Benson, who helped write the original pandemic response plan during the avian flu scare, worried that the swine flu outbreak could interfere with Commencement.
"If this thing continues to grow, with people traveling, I would think that would be a very complicated call," he said. "The last thing you want is people flying in from all over the place...and then spreading back out again."
Benson added that similar concerns about Commencement surfaced during the SARS scare in 2003.
Longley said that while the College is not yet thinking that far ahead, "if we need to, we will."
Around the state, other colleges were also revising and activating their emergency procedures. Colby College's emergency response team met to review its pandemic response plan on Tuesday, and Bates College's met yesterday.
Bates, like Bowdoin, already has a pandemic response plan dating back to the 2006 avian flu scare, according to Brian McNulty, director of communications. Since the current threat from swine flu is less severe, McNulty said that Bates would "deal with developments as they arise."
An announcement posted on the Bates College Web site last night said that the risk of a school closure is unlikely before summer vacation begins on May 29, but that if one occurrs, all students would have to leave campus within 24 hours.
Other colleges have taken preventive measures to preclude the spread of the virus. On Wednesday, Williams College took the step of eliminating any self-service areas in its dining halls.
"If you look at life on a college campus, and where viruses are most likely to be transmitted, it's in those places where large numbers of people are likely to be picking up the same thing," said Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs. "The precaution was that we decided to do without those for a while."
Two Bowdoin students, Sarah Ebel '10 and Nandini Vijayakumar '10, were studying abroad in Mexico—where H1N1 originated—for the spring semester. Ebel's program, in Baja, ended just over a week early because of concern over the swine flu.
In an e-mail to the Orient, Ebel wrote that while the virus had not yet been discovered in Baja, administrators ended her program due to minimal health care facilities in the area, as well as fears that the United States might close the Mexican border and leave students marooned in the country.
Vijayakumar's program, in the Yucatan, was going on as scheduled, although she wrote in an e-mail that her classes had been cancelled for a week.
"Everyone here is really paranoid about the flu," she wrote, even though nobody in the Yucatan has contracted the disease. "All of the movie theaters, clubs, bars, and some restaurants are closed. I'm technically not supposed to leave my house without wearing a mask."