Aug. 17—LEWISTON — With COVID-19 rates rising again in Androscoggin County, Bates College is reversing its plan to allow students and other vaccinated people to decide for themselves whether to wear protective masks.
Beginning on Tuesday, "all Bates community members, vaccinated and unvaccinated, must wear a mask while indoors on-campus and at Bates-sponsored off-campus programs," Geoffrey Swift, vice president for finance and administration, wrote in a note to faculty members.
There will be a few exceptions, though, to allow students to eat at the Commons dining hall together, and for students and live-in residential staff members to go without them inside dormitories.
People who are not vaccinated will be required to wear face coverings whether they are inside or outside until COVID-19 numbers decline in the area.
In addition, Bates is barring visitors from campus building, except parents and other family members on move-in day, who will be allowed inside residence halls for no more than an hour.
Campus events, Swift said, will only be open to students and faculty and staff members, "except in rare circumstances."
Bates officials said they hope they can drop the restrictions in the coming months.
"We hope these masking guidelines will be temporary, as this wave of COVID-19 in Androscoggin County waxes and then wanes," Swift said. "The pattern with the delta variant elsewhere in the world has been a fairly fast spike in cases in a local area followed by a sharp decline within a couple weeks.
"Public health experts expect a similar trend in the United States, so (college officials) anticipate returning to not requiring masks on campus for vaccinated individuals" when "community transmission declines in Androscoggin County and Bates community transmission remains low."
Swift said Bates has based its policies on public health recommendations from experts since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and will continue to do so.
About 95% of the Bates campus community is vaccinated, Swift said, with students required to have vaccines and most staff and faculty members choosing to have followed suit. Employees of the college have been urged to get jabbed but not required to do so.
Androscoggin County was recently identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as having substantial transmission of COVID-19 within the community. Swift said it will likely shift into a higher danger category soon.
Swift said Bates anticipates a more-positive trend after that.
"I hope that better days are ahead," he said, "and that we will soon be returning to lower transmission rates."