The setting sun backlights a smudge of clouds beyond the Miller Library steeple on the Colby College campus in Waterville on Dec. 5, 2019. Morning Sentinel file photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — Officials at the city’s two colleges were monitoring the rapidly developing reactions to the coronavirus outbreak this week but announced no new changes to existing stances even as other Maine colleges rolled out plans to further restrict travel and stop on-campus learning after spring breaks.

Both Colby College and Thomas College have already been restricting some college-related travel, prohibiting such trips to countries designated as “CDC Warning Level 3,” which includes countries such as China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.

On Wednesday, Bowdoin College and the University of Maine System joined other colleges across the country in announcing steps to transition to remote learning and told their students to make plans not to return to campus after spring break because of fears of the coronavirus. In addition, the New England Small College Athletic Conference — of which Colby, Bowdoin and Bates are members — released a statement Wednesday saying that all conference competition has been cancelled for the remainder of the spring semester in light of the fact that many NESCAC schools have decided “to have students return home and complete the semester remotely due to COVID-19.”

The developments came even as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday morning that all of the state’s coronavirus tests have been negative for the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. That means Maine is still the only New England state without a confirmed case.

Colby College, which has about 2,000 students from nearly every state and more than 70 countries, said in a statement Tuesday night that it was focused on three principles: “supporting the health and safety of our community, preserving our ability to continue our exceptional educational program, and, to the extent possible, maintaining the essence of the distinctive Colby experience for our students.”

Thomas College, which has about 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students, said in a statement Tuesday that “the leadership of Thomas College understands that COVID-19 is a major health concern for our state and our community.”

Last month, Colby announced that members of its community who recently visited China were being monitored in isolation for 14 days “out of an abundance of caution,” though no one tested positive for the virus.

“Multiple members of the Colby community are working together to determine actions that are aligned with these principles based on the best information we have at any given time. We are continuing to move quickly to support our community but also balancing the need for swiftness with our commitment to our principles and determining the best solution for Colby,” the college’s statement said. “While the College is currently reviewing a variety of options related to travel, at this time we are prohibiting College-related travel to CDC Level 3 countries for faculty and staff. Any member of the community who travels to a country that is designated Level 3 by the CDC for personal reasons is required to self-quarantine (independently, off-campus) for 14 days upon reentry to the United States. Additionally, staff members have been asked to cancel all nonessential conference travel.”

Colby, which has devoted a page on its website to the outbreak, earlier wrote in statements online that “because public health and related travel concerns may cause a significant number of students to avoid travel during spring break, residence halls and dining halls will remain open to accommodate having more students on campus.” Colby’s spring break is March 21-29.

The student-run Colby Echo newspaper sent out an online survey Tuesday night asking students for their opinions on how the college should approach maintaining health and safety amid the coronavirus outbreak. Of the more than 345 students who responded, 48% felt that Colby should not shut down for the remainder of the semester. On the topic of spring break, 25% said they planned to stay on campus and the remaining 75% said that they would be traveling for break in places with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“The school can’t regulate self-quarantine. I think the school should have online classes indefinitely and reimburse room and board for those who leave,” one Colby student responded in The Echo survey. “Please, please, please do not move to remote learning.”

Colby professor David Freidenreich, director of the Jewish studies program at the college, had planned a trip to Germany over spring break for his class “Jews of Germany, Past and Present.” But Freidenreich announced Tuesday in class that the trip would be suspended, per Colby officials.

In an email to the Echo, Freidenreich said he was disappointed by the trip’s cancellation “but not at all surprised given current developments.”

“I respect and fully support the college’s policies,” Freidenreich said in his email to The Echo. “We’re currently exploring the possibility of rescheduling the trip for the end of the semester in the hopes that these travel restrictions don’t need to persist.”

Colby President David Greene also emailed the college community Tuesday night and stressed that the college’s ultimate goal was safety and limiting the spread of the virus. “Our academic calendar is currently in our favor,” Greene wrote in the email. “While travel is a primary risk factor in the transmission of this virus, our spring break falls later than most, giving us slightly more time to work through these issues than some of our peers.”

Greene said that he was working with many groups on campus such as the Student Government Association and was very open to student input. Additionally, Greene was scheduled to have an open meeting with students Wednesday in the college’s Pugh Center to hear their feedback.

According to Thomas’s online policy on the virus, the college formed a COVID-19 response team, composed of administrators and staff representing key areas of the campus that are closely monitoring developments in this rapidly changing situation. As needed, it will implement procedures and protocols that can help safeguard the health and well-being of the campus community.

“Members of our Emergency Response Team, including Health Services, meet regularly to monitor the Maine CDC recommendations and review our response plans for our college community,” the Thomas post stated.

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