An Important COVID Update

Dear Students,

I am writing to provide updates from my recent communication of January 1. Now that students are returning to campus we are seeing a much larger number of positive cases than we have seen in the past.  This is not unexpected, but we will continue to need to monitor the situation and adapt policies in response.

Please read this message carefully, as it provides answers to many of your questions about arrival testing, positive results, close contacts, and isolation and quarantine processes. Note that this includes several important changes from earlier announcements. 

Arrival Testing
Many students have asked how to time the sequencing of your required on-campus arrival tests. Please schedule your two arrival tests at least 72 hours apart if at all possible. 

If you can accomplish this within the available hours at the campus testing site (Mon-Thurs from 9-4), please do so. If doing so would require you to remain in your initial arrival quarantine for additional days beyond the 72 hour requirement, then you may schedule your tests 48 hours apart, instead. You may do this on the honor system: no formal request is required. 

You may not schedule your two tests fewer than 48 hours apart under any circumstance. 

If you test positive before returning to campus…
If you have already communicated about your positive result with me or a Health Center staff member, please follow the directions provided to you. 

If you have not yet communicated with anyone about a positive test result obtained before returning to campus, please contact Sue Gaskell for guidance. 

If you test positive after arriving on campus…
You will be moved into a designated isolation space. 

If you live close enough to campus to be able to travel home by personal vehicle, you are encouraged to talk to the Health Center staff about whether you can instead complete your isolation period at home. 

Most college isolation spaces are now set up as doubles to accommodate the higher number of cases we expect as a result of the Omicron variant. If you move into isolation you will likely share your room and bathroom with other students who have tested positive. 

Once in isolation, you will be given an antigen (rapid) test on Day 5. If the result is negative you will move back into your original room and be able to attend classes on Day 6, but will have to adhere to strict masking requirements and take your meals to go until Day 11. 

If your antigen test remains positive on Day 5, you will remain in quarantine and test again 48 hours later.

If you are designated a close contact of a known positive…
The Health Center will contact you if you have been identified as a close contact. You will be considered a close contact if you have spent 15 minutes or more (cumulatively within 24 hours) within six feet of a known positive, regardless of whether or not you were masked at the time.  

If you are a close contact who has been vaccinated, then you will not need to enter quarantine. You will remain in your original room, but will have to follow strict masking guidelines and take your meals to go for ten days. Vaccinated close contacts who are asymptomatic will not be provided with antigen tests; they will continue with the twice a week PCR testing schedule, and will be moved to isolation space if they test positive.  

If you are a close contact who has been provided a vaccination exemption or is significantly immunocompromised, then you will be required to move into a designated quarantine room. In this case you will be tested with a PCR test on Day 5. If the test is negative, you will be allowed to go back to your original room, but will have to adhere to strict masking requirements and take all meals to-go until Day 11. 

If you are experiencing symptoms…
Do not go to the testing site.  Contact Health Services immediately directly and arrange for a test.

For now, you must mask in all indoor locations except your own bedroom until you clear two negative on-campus COVID tests. 

If and when you receive two negative results you may then also unmask in your own common room, if you have one associated with your suite. You will have to mask in all other indoor locations until we successfully navigate the Omicron surge. 

We hope to return at some point to last semester’s rule, which allowed students to unmask in all residential spaces. However, in light of the increased risk we need to limit unmasking more strictly for now.

In addition to vaccinations and testing, masking is the single most effective way to protect yourselves and others, and to allow us to continue to offer in person experiences throughout January and the spring. Please be vigilant —even when masks feel tiresome or irritating—so we can move past the current surge and return to the more relaxed policies from last fall. 

As you have seen this week, we are having to revise many policies as we go, based on what we are learning about how to keep campus safe, while still prioritizing in-person experiences as fully as possible. Although healthy and vaccinated students who contract COVID are likely to experience only mild symptoms in many cases, we need to also protect all of the staff and faculty who make the Williams experience possible. Our policies will continue to reflect these priorities. 

Please be sure to continue to check your email for updates.

All best wishes,


Marlene J. Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology