Announcing a plan for the first week of Spring Semester

Williams faculty, students and staff,

I am writing to preview the college’s current plan for the first week of Spring Semester.

Based on current data and lessons learned from on-boarding students during Winter Study,  Senior Staff and I have decided that the first week of spring semester, from Wednesday, February, 2, through the end of the day on Wednesday, February 9 will be held remotely. This also means that Claiming Williams, scheduled for the second day of the semester, will be virtual this year. We made this decision reluctantly given the significance of this program to Williams’ culture, and I thank the Claiming Williams committee for their hard work in adapting to this disruptive change.

At the start of spring semester, students who are returning from off campus will be required to complete an initial arrival quarantine, and will not be eligible to attend classes in person until they clear two negative tests. This means that initially some students will be in arrival quarantine while others will be out. Remote classes will allow everyone to start the semester on equal footing.

I have heard from some people who think Williams’ rules are too strict, given that most of those who test positive for Omicron do not exhibit serious symptoms. Others, who have or know people with medical vulnerabilities, are concerned about any potential exposure. As a highly transmissible virus, Omicron also has the potential to disrupt learning and campus operations if large numbers of people have to isolate themselves. Our policies seek to navigate these challenges. As in the fall, we will relax stricter guidelines once we are convinced that case numbers are decreasing to a manageable level.

Following are additional details:

Faculty and staff

  • All Williams classes will be remote from Wednesday, February 2, through Wednesday , February 9. A great deal of work is required to adjust lesson plans and logistics, so I thank everyone in advance for the effort this will entail. Classes will return to in-person mode starting on Thursday, February 10, unless the Covid outlook changes significantly.

Students who are on campus now

  • If you are on campus now and do not engage in any overnight travel before the beginning of the spring semester, you will not need to go through the arrival isolation process again in February. You will instead just continue with your weekly testing schedule. We strongly encourage you not to travel for this reason.
  • If you take any overnight personal trip at any time between now and spring semester then you must go through the arrival isolation process again in February, as described below. This requirement will not apply to students on supervised, college-sponsored trips (e.g., faculty-led Winter Study trips, college career treks or varsity athletic travel), which include extensive testing protocols.

Students who are not on campus now

  • Students who were not enrolled in the fall or who are not on campus for Winter Study (or both) should return to campus on Tuesday, February 1.
    • Before returning to campus, make every effort to get a COVID test at home as close to departure as possible (ideally in the 48-72 hour range if you are taking a PCR test). If you are unsure where to get a pre-arrival test, you can use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services nationwide testing locator to find the nearest testing site to your location. We encourage PCR tests whenever possible, but rapid tests are an acceptable option if need be.  If you test positive, you should not come to campus.  Please contact the Health Center to let them know, and we will work with you to schedule a delayed arrival date.
    • You may not move back in before Tuesday, Feb 1: staff need time to clean and prepare the rooms during our brief turnaround after Winter Study.
    • You should also not return after February 1, since you will need to allow time to get the results of two negative tests (scheduled 48-72 hours apart) before attending your first in-person classes. Due to heavy demand, the Broad Institute is taking close to 48 hours to return our test results right now, which needs to be figured into the calculation. Thus, if you return later than February 1 you will likely have to miss the first days of in-person classes while completing your required arrival quarantine.
  • Here is the process for arrival from off campus:
    • Arrive on campus and schedule the first available Covid test through CoVerified.
    • Remain in your room for an initial arrival quarantine until you receive your first negative test result. You will be allowed to leave to pick up to-go meals and to get outside for fresh air.
    • After your first negative test result you can leave your room as long as you wear a mask at all times. You will be able to be in other indoor spaces around campus, but not in classrooms.
    • After the second negative result you will be allowed to attend classes in person, and can also go unmasked in your private common room, if you have one assigned to your suite. We will ask that you continue to mask in all other indoor spaces.
  • There will be no food or drink allowed at gatherings held by RSOs or other student groups for a period of time, until we understand the level of Covid in our community and feel that it is safe for people to unmask socially.
  • Other large gatherings, including parties, will be strongly discouraged.

There are many more details that remain to be worked out before February 1.

Faculty, if you have questions, please contact the Dean of Faculty.

Students, you should direct any questions to your dean.

Staff, we recommend taking any questions to your manager first. They can refer unresolved issues to the Operations group and Senior Staff for consideration.

The Williams community seems to be doing an effective job of avoiding major Covid transmission right now. People are masking, vaccination and booster rates are high, and the case count, while not zero, is so far manageable. Senior Staff will continue to monitor the data carefully, and will pivot to a hybrid or remote model if needed.

We are grateful to everyone who is working to avoid that necessity. As long as the situation remains stable, the precaution of a first remote week of classes will help set us up for a healthy and more pleasant in-person spring.