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December 9, 2020

Portland museum closes temporarily, Bates delays classes in response to spread

File photo / Tim Greenway In response to rising coronavirus infection statewide, Bates College President Clayton Spencer has postponed the start of the Lewiston school's semester by a month.

Two Maine employers are taking preemptive steps to increase safety as cases of COVID-19 surge across the state.

The Portland Museum of Art on Wednesday closed its exhibit halls to the public and said they will remain shuttered until further notice. In Lewiston, Bates College has extended its winter break and postponed the start of its next semester by about a month.

The goal of the museum’s closure is to “contain the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the health and safety of our staff, visitors, and community,” Director Mark H.C. Bessire wrote in a letter to patrons Tuesday.

Bessire made no mention of coronavirus spread at the museum or among its 100 employees. In recent months, numerous other Maine businesses and organizations have announced temporary closures in response to outbreaks.

But PMA spokesman Graeme Kennedy told Mainebiz there has  been “no outbreak at all, and our staff and visitors have all done exceptionally well in the face of this pandemic.

“We are simply being proactive with the case numbers on the rise, choosing to not wait for a potential executive order and to be responsive to the increasing numbers in our region and state.”

The PMA's digital exhibitions and virtual events will continue to be available.

The museum, Maine’s largest public art institution with over 22,000 works, is in the midst of a unionizing campaign. Workers are attempting to organize as part of the Technical, Office and Professional Union Local 2110, affiliated with the United Auto Workers.

While the PMA has contested how an employee vote would be conducted, the National Labor Relations Board recently determined that workers could vote by mail on whether to organize. A count of the votes is expected by Dec. 22.

Classes postponed

At Bates, fall semester exams have ended, and the college’s 1,800 students are now on winter break. But President Clayton Spencer on Monday said the time off will last about four weeks longer than originally scheduled, with students not returning to campus until Feb. 12 and classes not resuming until Feb. 17.

Like many colleges in Maine and elsewhere, Bates had previously revised its academic calendar in response to the pandemic. Students were given the option to attend class on campus or remotely during much of the fall, but switched to remote learning after Thanksgiving.

Bates usually holds a “short term" in addition to its two semesters, but now has eliminated that period in order to accommodate the calendar change.

“Trends in infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have worsened steadily over the past six weeks, nationally and in Maine, and they are likely to intensify over the holiday season as people travel and families gather indoors,” Spencer said in a letter to the Bates community.

“Based on the course of the pandemic nationally and in Maine, and consultation with experts, we have concluded that it is not prudent to bring students back to campus, as planned, in early January.”

On Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that 406 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported, and that seven more Mainers had died of the disease. The new data brings the total of cases to 14,454, with 246 deaths.

The numbers have spiked in recent weeks. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases is currently 321.9, more than double the average of 158.3 just one month ago.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the Bates academic calendar.

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December 9, 2020
Glad to see that Bates is being so prudent. (And just BTW, their short term comes at the end of the academic year, not between the two semesters).
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