A pedestrian, reflected in a mirror, walks Monday toward Underhill Arena on the Bates College campus where COVID-19 testing is conducted. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — “A number of students” have been sent home by Bates College for violating rules created to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

Josh McIntosh, vice president for campus life, said in an open letter to the college community Friday that the students were sent away and forced to switch to remote learning for a range of issues, including “being in residence halls they do not live in, hosting guests who are not Bates students, and not complying with the COVID-19 testing requirements, including repeatedly missing testing appointments.

Neither McIntosh nor Bates cited a specific number of how many of the approximately 1,700 students on campus were sent home.

Bates has been testing students twice a week since they arrived in Lewiston in late August. So far, it has administered 23,674 tests with two positive results, both early in the semester. Each student recovered.

In addition, the college has given almost 4,000 tests to employees. One who tested positive in early October is still ill, according to Bates’ coronavirus dashboard. Two professors contracted COVID-19 in the spring as well, and have since recovered.

Malcolm Hill, dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs, said in a video this month that the college is generally happy with the way things have gone on campus.

“So far, so good,” Bates President Clayton Spencer said in a video message to the college community recently. She said the “incredible good faith” of students has made it work.

People have “spaced out and spread out and masked up,” Hill said. “We’re in a solid space right here.”

Hill said the experience offers “a remarkable moment in the institution’s history” as it tries to maintain its traditions, academic rigor and community spirit while adhering to social distancing standards and other restrictions.

McIntosh told students he continues “to be impressed by the way you have adapted to our public health requirements on and off campus.”

“As you know, until an effective vaccine is broadly available, we must remain committed to our layered health precautions” and follow government guidance “in order to have the best chance of remaining open.”

In response to the growing pandemic, Bates shut down its campus from mid-March until students returned in late August. Hill said that during that time, officials “thoughtfully planned for what the academic year was going to look like.”

There is no doubt it’s been quite different from the norm.

Kirk Read, a French professor, described his experience in a video produced by the college recently.

Read said that COVID-19 “has restricted our lives so much. We can’t eat in the dining hall together. We can’t go to the Den,” a hangout where students often buy drinks and food.

“We can’t compete in athletics,” he said. “We can’t be in the theater together in person. The singing groups can’t perform.”

Read said, though, that he hoped that all the limitations and extra free time might lead to a renewed concentration “for the life of the mind” that could “just catch fire in a way that it might not with all these other distractions.”

“I’m happy to report that I think that is kinda what’s happening,” Read said, adding that it is refreshing to see students “plunging in with this great ardor and energy.”

Parker Hall, the oldest dorm at Bates College, has housed students since the 1850s. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

McIntosh said that despite the success the college has had in preventing the spread of COVID-19, he is concerned that students may be slipping in their vigilance.

He said he’s heard about “an increase in social gatherings in the residence halls, with groups of students from different residences meeting in private rooms, not wearing face coverings, and not practicing physical distancing.”

“These unsafe behaviors could quickly lead to eliminating in-person courses and perhaps even the on-campus experience,” he said.

“I know that this is not what any of us want, but it is the likely outcome if we let down our guard now and engage in behaviors that are highly likely to spread the virus,” McIntosh said.

As a result, he said, “We will continue to have Campus Safety do walk-throughs of residence halls and intervene as necessary. I am sorry that we are in this position, but the stakes are high for everyone, and we would be irresponsible not to take action.”

“Students who have violated our public health standards have been surprised by the seriousness with which we have taken these infractions, and by the swiftness with which they have been removed from college housing and switched to remote learning,” he said.

He warned students that if they are “found in any residence other than your residence hall, miss scheduled testing appointments, or violate other aspects of the public health agreement, the likely outcome is that you will be sent home and switched to remote learning.”

McIntosh also told students that some of the college’s neighbors have complained about “an increase in noise and student foot traffic” in areas near the campus, especially in the areas of Frye and White streets.

“Students who live on these streets should be careful and considerate when gathering outside on porches and in yards,” he said. “While you may be in compliance with our public health policies, we ask you to be mindful of how your behavior may negatively affect other members of the community.”

“For those who do not live in these neighborhoods, please do not congregate or wander in groups large or small. Especially late at night, even a few students talking can be disruptive to our neighbors, and if you have consumed or are carrying alcohol, you risk being cited by Lewiston police,” McIntosh said.

College officials said they hope things continue to go well.

“We knock on wood every day,” President Spencer said. “We can see all over our country and the world that things can go sideways at any point. So we’re not going to let up.”

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