Campus Operations and Business Continuity Update

This message was revised on 1/10/22 to reflect the correct hours for the SVMC booster clinic.

Williams students, staff and faculty,

This email marks the temporary return of our weekly Ops messages. I wish they weren’t necessary. But as long as we’re contending with increased case counts and the resulting policy surge, hopefully the messages will at least give you a single source for Covid-related updates.

We’re also keeping the Covid web guides (Faculty/Staff and Student) updated to match.

As a sidenote, I know lots of folks are thinking ahead to and sometimes worrying about spring term. You won’t find anything about that topic here. We’re talking through the issues, of course, but it’s just too early to make informed decisions.

Meanwhile, this email includes a ton of news about our current situation. Here’s a quick list of the subheadings, followed by full details on each topic:

  • Public health tips
  • Winter Study Week 2 will be in-person
  • Testing guidance
  • Isolation rules and in-person classes
  • What to do if you test positive
  • Student close contacts
  • Dining news
  • Student events and social gatherings
  • Travel advice
  • Athletics facilities and competitions
  • Campus visitors and guests

Public health tips

The arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has forced us backward into the future: For now, our public health practices have to resemble the strict spring of 2020, more closely than the relatively relaxed fall of 2021.

We’re hoping to get back to a more comfortable balance. But it will require a lot of care from all of us to make that possible. Here are some things we ask everyone’s help with to get us there:

Get boosted: This is required at Williams. As a reminder, booster shots will be available at Berkshire Community College tomorrow, Saturday, January 8; and at the college field house on Friday, January 14. Both clinics are open to the public as well as campus.

You can also get a booster at Southwestern Vermont Health Center in Bennington. They’re offering walk-in and scheduled appointments Monday-Wednesday 1 to 5 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday 8 a.m. to noon. See the SVMC registration site for details. Since that one isn’t a date-specific clinic, the college unfortunately can’t provide transportation.

Wear a KN95 mask or else double-mask: We recommend KN95 masks if possible. As an alternative, you can double-mask by combining a cloth mask with a surgical mask under it. Note that a cloth mask alone won’t stop the virus. See the CDC’s Masking website for more information.

We don’t currently recommend the use of N95s. Despite the similarity in names, they’re designed for more specialized uses than the KN95s.

Students, if you have to move into isolation then the college will provide you with appropriate masks.

Stay masked indoors: It’s a rule, except when you’re in your dorm room or private office with the door closed. Students, since some folks have asked about this detail: you can unmask while in the shower.

Everyone, please, don’t assume that an empty room is therefore virus-free. We don’t know who was in there before you, and the virus can hang around in the air for quite a while. Our masking rules are meant to protect you against such unknowns, among other things.

Wear your mask while socializing outside, too. Omicron is so contagious that being outside doesn’t offer as much protection as it did against other variants (outside is still better than inside, though!). We suggest—and it’s a suggestion—that you stay masked even outdoors if you’re within six feet of others. Really, it’s a good idea to mask whenever you’re around people, period.

If you see someone else not wearing a mask, or not wearing it properly, please offer them a friendly reminder. This is a community expectation, not a policing thing.

Winter Study Week 2 will be in-person

Given our testing and masking protocols and high vaccination rates, and our ability to manage the positive cases we’ve seen so far, we’re planning to return to in-person teaching next Monday, January 10.

We’ll of course continue monitoring the data and announce a change if necessary. But as of now you should plan on being in person Monday.

Testing

Our campus test results are taking longer to come back from the Broad Institute than the 24-36 hour turnaround we’d grown used to, and we expect the new, slower timing to continue. Our reporting and dashboard updates will therefore also take longer than they did in the fall.

Broad is committed to processing our tests as efficiently as possible while they content with the current surge and increased demand on their testing program, as well as the impact of Covid on their own staff. We won’t know what kind of turnaround to expect on a long-term basis until we get further into the year.

While this isn’t in our control I know that no one likes waiting, and we regret the lag.

No testing on MLK Day

The campus test sites will be closed on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Monday, January 17. No college testing will be available that day. Testing will resume as usual on Tuesday, January 18.

Student testing

Once you finish your arrival quarantine you should immediately begin testing twice weekly for the rest of the semester. Starting next Monday, January 10, students should schedule your tests as follows, regardless of your vaccination status:

  • Students with last names beginning with A through L test every Monday and Wednesday
  • Students with last names beginning with M through Z test every Tuesday and Thursday

Since this may not align perfectly with your schedule, you’re allowed to test on different days if you really need to. Just know that you’ll continue to receive reminders to test on the assigned dates, since we can’t customize our reminders.

Note that student testing is now conducted on the second floor of Greylock Hall.

Since all campus test sites will be closed on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, for the week of January 17 all students should test on Tuesday and Thursday. If you’re usually a Monday-Wednesday tester, please ignore any automated reminders on Monday. Starting the following Monday, January 24, you’ll return to your usual schedule.

A note on missed tests: Everyone misses one once in a while. Don’t panic, but also please don’t do it often. If you do miss a test, just book one at the next available time or on the next available day (if you miss a Thursday test, the next available day will be the following Monday). After that, return to your regularly scheduled sequence.

Students, if you’re not on campus for some or all of Winter Study due to participation in 99s, internships, theses or travel courses, please email Cyndi Haley so she can remove you from our testing schedule while you’re away. You’ll need to email Cyndi in addition to switching yourself to remote status in CoVerified—they’re not the same thing.

Quarantine

We’re hearing some confusion regarding the arrival quarantine protocol: Students, you’re allowed to leave quarantine and attend classes after your first negative test result. Just stay masked until you get your second one.

If you test positive you’ll be moved into isolation and must remain in the assigned room/bathroom for the whole isolation period. Any violation of this protocol creates a significant public health risk so will lead to a disciplinary consequence. It feels lousy to have to say it. So, please, just put up with the wait and then move on to better things.

Positive results

Faculty and staff

We’ve updated our Faculty/Staff guide with information on what you should do if you test positive, either at the college site or via a non-college program.

If you test positive via an outside (non-college) program, contact Danielle Gonzalez right away so she can note the result and advise you on what to do.

Students

If you test positive after you get to campus you’ll be assigned to an isolation or quarantine room. Once there you’ll be given an antigen (rapid) test on Day 5. If your result is negative you’ll move back to your original room and be allowed to attend classes on Day 6. You’ll still have to adhere to strict masking requirements and take your meals to go until Day 11.

If your Day 5 rapid test is positive, you’ll stay in isolation through Day 10 and will move back to your regular status on Day 11, instead.

Throughout your isolation the Student Health Services team will stay in regular contact with you to monitor your health, and meals will be delivered to your building for pickup. If you have to miss class while in quarantine or isolation, your instructor has been encouraged to be flexible and help you find ways to successfully complete your course. Please talk to them if you have questions or need an accommodation.

A last note: Please, don’t go to class in person if you’re feeling unwell in any way.

Student Close Contacts

Students, if you’re identified as a close contact of another student who tests positive, a college staff member will contact you with information and instructions. Please comply with their guidance, which is for your protection and the safety of the people around you.

Dining

All meals will continue to be take-out only during the week of January 9 through January 16. Seating areas in the dining halls will be closed.

If you haven’t informed Dining Services of your allergies or dietary restrictions yet, please do so right away. This will protect you in case you test positive and need to have meals delivered to you in quarantine.

The Dining folks have to do a system update on their mobile app next week, so the app will be offline on Monday and Tuesday, January 10 and 11. During this time you’ll be able to find extended grab ’n go options at https://dining.williams.edu.

Social Gatherings

Formal in-person events/meetings/programming must be reviewed and approved by Kris Hoey in Campus Life. All event participants will have to stay masked at all times, and in order to minimize risk no food or drink will be allowed.

Informal gatherings of any size or duration are strongly discouraged. This isn’t a good time for parties or large get-togethers.

Travel

Faculty and staff, for now there’s change to the rules on official college travel, which have been in place since Dukes’ campus message last April.

Students: Personal travel isn’t prohibited right now, but it’s definitely discouraged, since Covid rates are lower on campus than off.

Relatedly, if you’re on campus during Winter Study and are thinking about whether to take a trip before Spring Semester starts, just know that you’d then have to re-quarantine when you returned. Whereas if you stay on campus during that the interim period you’ll just continue to test in the campus program, but won’t have to re-isolate before the new term starts.

Athletics

As announced yesterday, we’ll re-open Athletics facilities to the campus community on Monday. This includes attendance at competitions (students only may also attend some of this weekend’s competitions. See yesterday’s email for details). Access to the gym and competitions will be limited to current students, faculty and staff for the time being.

Visitors and Guests

Until further notice, only faculty, staff and students may attend college events (athletics competitions, performances, etc.). For now, members of the public are still allowed into the Library and the Williams College Museum of Art, and to participate in admission tours, which are outdoors only. Check the Visitors and Guests page for details.

This limitation on visitors does not apply to job candidates, scheduled guest speakers and other individuals whose visits are arranged through college departments or units. Those folks are still allowed to come to campus as planned.

 

This is more news than most people can or want to absorb in a single reading. Please go back and read it on the Covid website anytime to review the details—again, this same information is also in the Faculty/Staff and Student web guides. If you have questions specific to your situation, you can also contact the folks in the relevant areas (Health Services, Housing, HR, Dining, etc.). Please just try to be judicious with the questions: Given how hard everyone’s working right now, a little patience, understanding and appreciation can go a long way.

In that spirit: thanks. You’re all doing a solid job of this in lousy circumstances. My colleagues and I are optimistic that this community can improve those circumstances if we stick together.

Jim