Dear Colby Community,
It is hard for me to believe that only two days ago students were packing belongings and moving off campus. In that short time, we have seen major metropolitan areas issue shelter-in-place orders and the U.S. government offer guidance to close schools and many public-meeting places. Here in Waterville, city officials have ordered schools, restaurants, and bars to close immediately. As I write this, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is reporting that there have been 32 positive tests for COVID-19 in the state, one in our county. The state number nearly doubled overnight, and we are expecting many more confirmed cases in the days ahead.
The campus is quiet. By tomorrow there will be approximately 150 students on campus, and that number will be closer to 100 by the end of the week, depending on travel availability. With support from the Center for Teaching and Learning and our information technology team, professors are working from home to place course materials online. The vast majority of our staff members are working remotely, and those who do come to campus are working under strict rules that require social distancing. We have closed the libraries, Museum, and athletic center, and visitors are not allowed on campus. The only dining services available are grab-and-go meals. Each of these changes is designed to limit the spread of infection.
More than 1,300 individuals have been tested for the virus in Maine, and except for the 32 cases I mentioned above, all have come back negative. Those tested include members of the Colby community. While we have not yet had a positive test, we should expect we will, and I want you to know how things will be handled when that occurs.
If the test occurs through our Health Center and comes back positive, Maine CDC will either work directly with the patient or the College to provide a list of individuals with whom the person was in recent contact, and the public health officials will determine who will be contacted (if the test was not administered on campus, the medical provider who ordered the test will work with Maine CDC). Directions from Maine CDC will normally range from self-monitoring symptoms to self-quarantine. If those contacts or those infected are students currently on campus, we are prepared to facilitate self-quarantine as needed with medical monitoring, food, and academic support. If students are at home when contacted, they should follow the guidance from Maine CDC.
It is important for you to know that we will be following the directives of our state public health officials and have obligations to protect the medical privacy of members of our community. This might mean that we cannot be as forthcoming about individual circumstances as you might wish. My advice to all of you is the same advice I give to myself: we should recognize that if we have been interacting with friends, colleagues, and the general public over the last few weeks, we could have been exposed to the virus and possibly—unknowingly and unintentionally—shared it with others. In my view, knowing that requires us to be vigilant in employing all reasonable means to halt the spread of the virus, including the most simple habits of heightened hygiene and social distancing. And if we experience symptoms that are consistent with being infected by COVID-19, we should call medical professionals for their guidance on whether testing is appropriate.
I want to close on a more personal note. Today is March 17, and in my Irish-American family growing up this day always began with the scents and tastes of soda bread that my mother made for the nine of us when we awoke. It has been years since I have tasted my mother’s bread, but this date never passes for me without thinking about it and remembering how that routine, small as it might be in some ways, was a sustaining, joyful presence in my life.
In the same way, I have come to expect to awaken on this date to a campus filled with an amazing community gathered from all parts of the world to learn and grow in ways that are expected and, thankfully, can never be anticipated. But our routines have been disrupted, and so many of the things that are sustaining, joyful presences in our lives are disturbingly on hold. Nonetheless, I am fortunate to be with my family, and that always helps me see the brighter side of life. I hope that wherever you are and whoever you are with, brightness is with you as well.
I miss you all and look forward to when we can all bring the vibrancy back to this beautiful campus. Until then, stay safe and keep everyone safe around you.
David A. Greene