WATERVILLE — As Thomas College prepares to move approximately 500 students into five residence halls on campus, resident assistants will be tasked with enforcing new health and safety guidelines to avoid a potential outbreak of COVID-19.

Throughout the last two weeks, a team of 20 resident assistants have been in training that has prepared them to enforce the new rules, according to Hannah Gladstone, Thomas’ dean of students and director of residential life and housing.

“They receive two weeks of fall leadership training this year to include a lot more in regards to COVID. We have made our residents aware of new policies going into this year …” Gladstone said in an email Tuesday. “Our RA team is learning about both the new policies and strategies they can implement to confront and hold their peers accountable. Likewise, they are also learning about ways that they can help empower their residents to hold each other accountable.” 

Gladstone said the resident assistants have also been receiving their regular training on general safety and security, community building and programming, mental health, policy and procedures, diversity and conflict mediation. 

The new guidelines for on-campus housing include a no-guest policy, the required wearing of face masks in all common spaces, occupancy limits of two people per dorm room and five people per suite and varied occupancy limits for commons spaces.

Students living on the Thomas campus, located at 180 West River Road in Waterville, will arrive on staggered days between Aug. 18 and Sept. 7. They will then be screened and tested before checking into housing. 

Colby College is following similar procedures and announced on Monday that it had recorded five positive COVID tests — three among students and two among staff  — over the past month.

Freshmen Bella Van Zandt, right, of Gorham is assisted by her mother, Valerie, while moving into her residence hall Wednesday at Thomas College in Waterville. Resident assistants in the dorms have an added responsibility this year: holding their peers accountable to abide by the rules regarding COVID-19 and empowering students to hold each other accountable. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The University of Maine has had three students test positive for COVID-19.

Thomas is also abiding by the guidelines established by Gov. Janet Mills regarding outdoor gatherings, which limit groups to no more than 50 people.

Resident assistants will be on duty every night to ensure all students are adhering to the guidelines inside and outside of the residence halls. They will also be working with campus security officers to address any situations that may violate the rules.

If students have concerns about fellow students violating the rules, they are encouraged to inform resident assistants or the safety and security staff, who are always on call.

During their training, resident assistants have been participating in mock scenarios that will help them deal with varying situations such as addressing students who aren’t wearing face masks, answering questions about testing and caring for those residents who may be in isolation or quarantine.

Gladstone said the school is prepared in the event a resident gets sick or needs to quarantine.

“We have designated both strategies and space to those students who either will be required to isolate or quarantine for various reasons,” Gladstone said.

Before returning to campus, all students are required to sign the “Terrier Pledge,” which according to Gladstone, is an agreement to keep one another safe and healthy.

A partition equipped with a protective shield and disinfectant is shown at left Wednesday as freshmen move into residence halls at Thomas College in Waterville. Resident assistants in the dorms have an added responsibility this year: holding their peers accountable to abide by the rules regarding COVID-19 and empowering students to hold each other accountable. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“Our role on campus will be to look out for and protect the health and safety of our community,” Gladstone said. “If students are not able or choose not to follow the pledge, we will consider that perhaps this may not be the semester that they should be back on campus. The health and safety of our campus is dependent on our students following the pledge they sign and looking out for one another.” 

Officials at Thomas have been working on plans to bring students and staff back to campus since it initially moved to remote learning in March.

The precautions in Thomas’ safety plan include increasing the frequency of cleaning in high traffic areas and bathrooms; installing more hand sanitizer stations around campus; expanding health services to include telehealth options and the addition of counseling hours; increasing dining space to make social distancing possible; and prohibiting the use of campus facilities by outside groups through the fall semester.

This fall, 81% classes will be offered in person or in hybrid formats, in socially distanced classrooms, according to Mackenzie Riley Young, assistant director of media relations for Thomas College.

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