LEWISTON – A number of anonymous flyers were circulated early Wednesday at Bates College that claimed the college had decided to join a purported effort to beat the coronavirus through “forced mass contamination.”

It claimed students would be injected with COVID-19 without exception since the new virus will eventually infect everyone anyway.

Submitted photo

College officials quickly denounced the hoax and urged students, faculty and staff to “discard or delete” the fake flyer, which was made to look like a letter from Bates President Clayton Spencer, and to seek  reliable information.

“We are all doing our best to grapple with a very challenging public health situation, this kind of action reflects seriously poor judgment and blatant disregard for the concerns and well-being of others,” Sean Findlen, chief communications officer, said in a message to the Bates community.

Findlen said the flyers were a hoax, neither authored nor signed by President Spencer, and they do not represent accurate guidance on the matter of COVID-19.”

Bates is seeking to finish out its winter semester, which ends on April 18, while at least four of the 11 colleges in its conference have opted to close classrooms and dorms early, including nearby Bowdoin College in Brunswick, which announced its decision Wednesday morning.

The fraudulent letter, titled an “Urgent Update” on the college’s COVID-19 response plan, said students would all have to report to the dining hall on Sunday between noon and 6 p.m. to be injected with an active coronavirus.

“Participation in this effort is compulsory, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs (in accordance with LD 798, as upheld in the March 3rd referendum,” the flyer continued. “Any student, faculty or staff member who refuses the anti-vaccination will be separated from the College for the safety of our community.”

It proceeded to declare the classes would be canceled for two weeks to allow the community “to make a full recovery” before racing to finish the semester in April.

“Bates College is founded on principles of equality, and we therefore cannot make an exception for immunocompromised individuals,” the flyer said.

This is not the first time Bates has been subjected to fake flyers aimed at confusing students. There have been at least a couple of election-related flyers posting misleading information clearly aimed at keeping students from voting in recent years.

Meanwhile, the college is eyeing ever more seriously the possibility that it won’t be able to finish the winter session slated to end April 18.

It said Wednesday that faculty members will be offered “a number of training workshops” beginning next week about how to teach online. The college has already increased its connectivity options and network capacity for online course offerings.

It also issued a new rule prohibiting gatherings on campus of 100 or more people without explicit approval. It urged students and staff to “consider canceling or postponing large convenings, or conducting programming online.”

Events that require outside guests or visitors also need approval ahead of time.

Given all the new health-related rules in place at many colleges, Bates’ athletic director, Jason Fein, said in a prepared statement that the entire spring sports schedule has been canceled as well.

“I realize this is very difficult and disappointing news, particularly for our seniors, who were looking forward to a final season of hard work and competition,” he said. “I am mindful of just how important the athletic experience is to our students, as teams provide a sense of community, connection, and purpose. However, we find ourselves in a situation where we have an obligation, with respect to all college activities, to mitigate health risks to the Bates community as a whole.”

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