WE WERE SUCCESSFUL in keeping our campus nearly COVID-free from August through October. A summer full of planning for the Fall 2020 semester paid off as we began bringing students back to Castine during the most challenging time in MMA history. We greeted students with temperature-taking, entry testing, and quarantine, and amazingly, we had just a few positive cases in that first week.
It took an extraordinary community effort on the part of students, faculty, and staff to get us through October. We committed to a set of safety principles and guidelines, “12 Ways to 12 Weeks,” practiced social distancing and daily hygiene protocols, avoided large gatherings, kept small social circles, and stayed focused on educational and professional goals.
During a fall term that was all about separating people and keeping them safe, the event that brought us together was Ship Jump. Though a couple of weeks later than usual and quite different because of social distancing and safety protocols, the event was a community triumph that made us feel like we belonged on campus, focused on our mission together.
However, like the rest of Maine and the entire U.S., we were seeing increasing positive COVID-19 cases in our community in early November. The highest number of known COVID-positive individuals numbered 13, but total close contacts grew to over 100 who needed isolation or quarantine in on-campus and off-campus housing. As a result, we transitioned all courses to remote instruction for the final 10 days of the Fall 2020 semester. Seeing what other colleges resorted to during this time, we know we were lucky to get that far.
A key to our success was a testing partnership with The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) and Puritan Medical Products that began in June, which helped us to develop our on-campus COVID-19 testing program. JAX is now our ongoing surveillance testing provider. Because of that partnership, our students were able to safely “cruise” aboard the TS State of Maine and accrue their final hours of sea time in order to graduate and obtain their U.S. Coast Guard licenses. Testing continues to be key to safe operations on campus.
“We will need unwavering resolve to keep focused, stay safe, and…carry out our mission.”
The reality of this circumstance is that we must remain flexible and adaptable, planning for variations of a future that is unknowable as we weigh community health trends, student behavior, and testing outcomes, all of which affect daily decision-making. Leadership, faculty, staff, and students are continually adjusting to new information and guidelines. We know how to pivot, and we will if we need to.
While we made the swift change to remote instruction to minimize the impact of the virus in November, we were also looking toward the future. At this time, our plan for January is to hold a Spring 2021 term on campus, though we will begin the semester with at least two weeks of remote instruction.
We will need unwavering resolve to keep focused, stay safe, and continue to carry out our mission.█