Campus Operations and Business Continuity Update

Williams students, faculty and staff,

Someone used the word “dour” in describing last week’s update. Ouch. The accusation stung all the more for its accuracy. So I want to start by acknowledging that fact, and my regret for having added to our overall feeling of weightiness. The message was a product of its time, but in hindsight I wish I’d done more to try and help lift folks up.

This week, before getting into the administrative shalts and shalt-nots, I’ll try to contribute to the general reserve of hope.

(If you don’t need this part, feel free to skip down to the headlines.)

For those who crave a bit of good news, the data show some early signs that Omicron might be leveling off for us. The campus case counts haven’t been as high as we feared they’d get, we’re so far not seeing high rates of community spread, and the regional data suggest that the surge could ease in the near future. That’s not exactly bold optimism, nor is it a guarantee. But it’s a reminder that we will get past this phase, and whenever we do it’ll be because you all pitched in.

Meanwhile, seeing students starting to get out and about is cause for celebration in itself. To give you something to get out and about, about (huh?), I asked the three SPEC 21 students in Communications (Lulu Whitmore ’23, Hikaru Hayakawa ’24 and Natasha Uwase ’25) for their ideas on what students could do to escape the grind. We tried to include suggestions for people in isolation or quarantine, too. If you have others, please send them to me, I may include a few more in a future update.

Here were some of their thoughts, which I’ve only lightly edited for flow. I hope they help show the love:

  • First, different people have different relationships/fears/conditions regarding Covid, so please respect that! Our community is definitely separated and dispersed right now (on screens, in quarantine, at home, on campus, etc) but we all have the same end goal so let’s support each other. (BTW, remember that first-years and sophomores haven’t experienced a “normal” Winter Study yet.)
  • Remember that online and in-person events are still occurring. Look at the Social Calendar, Daily Messages or the college events calendar for more information. And we can look forward to dining halls reopening next week, too, while being careful about spread.
  • The Williams Outdoor Club (WOC) is running a full list of programming. Joining the WOC mailing list provides many opportunities for covid-safe activities. Plus you’ll get goofy emails from Scott Lewis every week, free of charge.
  • If you’re more into self-guided options, WOC also offers snowshoes and other winter gear (even coats) for checking out and renting, so you can enjoy the outdoors on your own. That’s an especially fun option if we get the big snowstorm they’re predicting for Sunday/Monday.
  • Skiing is another Covid-friendly activity that can be done nearby—just avoid the lodge, mostly. And if you don’t ski yet, learning can be fun.
  • Rent board games from Sawyer (playing them masked is allowed and makes bluffing easier!).
  • Games work over Zoom, too. Online trivia with friends? Virtual board games? Jamboard Pictionary? Zoom karaoke? Try ’em all.
  • Enjoy reading? February 3 is Claiming Williams and M.I.T. historian Craig Wilder will be giving an evening keynote address. You can pick up copies of his book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled Histories of America’s Universities at Sawyer and Schow.
  • Nominate a friend to give a Storytime.
  • WCMA and The Clark are both open (you can even do your work in the Clark Café for a change of scenery). The Clark is also hosting concerts this week!
  • Go to athletic events. The Ephs need some extra cheers, just like you do. Students, faculty and staff are now welcome. And if you can’t attend in person, many events are being streamed.
  • Take a socially-distanced walk with a friend. There are tons of beautiful trails and places for a stroll, including Hopkins Forest, the Clark (free snowshoes!), Mountain Meadow, Field Farm, and the various areas stewarded by the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation.
  • Host a movie night. You’re allowed in each other’s common spaces, so just use your best judgment (big space + masks + no food = smart; small space + unmasked, including for food consumption = not so much). You can use the college’s Kanopy subscription if you want. Sawyer even has projectors and screens to check out if you want to go for the full theater experience. And while you’re there, make sure to check out Special Collections’ ongoing exhibit.
  • If you have to/prefer to stay in your room, you can still organize viewings with friends over a calling service.

Many thanks to Hikaru, Lulu and Natasha for these among other ideas. There are also lots of lectures and events coming up, including job talks by candidates for faculty positions. These talks are often interesting—the visitors are often at the leading edge of their disciplines—and the candidates really, really appreciate people showing up! Some of the lectures will be streamed, too. Keep an eye on Daily Messages for dates and details.

I’m sure you can think of other ideas. Do what’s fun for you, as long as it’s safe. There’s lots of potential for imagination.

And if you’re in a space where you just can’t feel the joy right now, that’s OK, too. Reach out to whomever you trust. Many of us have been there ourselves, and all of us are here to help. It’s an important time for you to lean on that “community” that we always talk about here. Just ask.

Now, please prepare yourselves for… Announcements:

Academics and Co-Curriculars

  • Hopefully you all read Maud’s riveting message about the plan for a remote first week of spring classes. Which means Claiming Williams will also be virtual. Thank you to the faculty and staff who are now hustling to revise plans. It’s not our favorite ask ever, but this is a more inclusive approach than trying to hybridize first-week classes while some folks are in isolation and others are in-person.

Booster shots

  • Staff and faculty: we have a February 1 deadline, too. Please submit booster documentation or request an exemption by the end of January. You can find instructions in the faculty/staff guide for uploading vaccine and booster documents. Email any questions to covid-info-facstaff​@williams​.edu.
  • As an aside, you might be interested to know that Massachusetts is now supporting digital vaccine passports. We’re not currently using these passports on campus, but wanted to share the news in case it’s helpful for life off-campus (there is such a thing, right?).
  • A few folks have asked why boosters are required, given that a significant and increasing number of people have recently recovered from Covid. The answer is that we’re following CDC guidance: According to the CDC, vaccination is a more reliable way to build protection against Covid. Emerging evidence shows that getting a vaccine after recovery from Covid-19 “provides added protection to your immune system.”

Testing

  • This is a friendly reminder that all campus testing sites will be closed next Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Students, you should all test on Tuesday and Thursday instead and then the following week go back to your regular schedules.
  • Reimbursement is coming for rapid tests. The Biden Administration has issued guidance requiring health insurance plans to cover the costs of FDA-authorized, rapid, at-home COVID tests (aka “rapid tests”), starting tomorrow, January 15, and continuing for the duration of the public health emergency. We’re waiting for guidance from Blue Cross/Blue Shield on how this coverage will work for us, so we’ll share more information soon. In the meantime, if you’re enrolled in the college’s health plan, start saving the receipts for any antigen tests purchased from tomorrow onwards, since they’ll likely be reimbursable.
  • Students: Please don’t take an antigen test and then just leave campus and go home if it’s positive! Notify Health Services first, so that we can help monitor your symptoms and also temporarily remove you from the college testing program. That way you won’t get those irksome warnings about missed tests, etc.
  • I love the word “irksome.” Don’t know why. Probably feels authentic to my work.
  • If you’re off campus for some or all of Winter Study, please email Cyndi Haley in the Dean’s Office to be removed from the testing program so you won’t be irked, either.

Masks

  • I want everyone to know that the college doesn’t recommend against the use of N95s. My message last week was ambiguous on that point, to say the least.
  • To clarify: Anyone who wants to use an N95 is welcome to.
  • To extra-clarify: masking is required, but the choice of mask type is up to you, as long as it’s effective (a cloth mask by itself isn’t). For a detailed guide to mask and respirator types, visit the CDC masking website. The CDC also has useful tips on how to store and clean masks, as does the Washington Post.
  • When I wrote that we “don’t recommend” N95s, it was my clumsy way of saying that the college isn’t currently favoring them over other viable options. Students, this is a great case study in the importance of clear writing.
  • Here’s the good news: starting on a date TBD, the college will make KN95s available to campus for free pickup at the testing sites. We’ll have to limit the program to one mask per person at first. If/when we can ensure access to a steady supply, we’ll review that decision. But we don’t want to overpromise at a time when suppliers are telling us they’re struggling to maintain inventory.
  • Meanwhile, the college also has plenty of paper masks and cloth face masks available, which are acceptable when paired. We have a stock of face shields that can be added to masking, for cases where such protection is needed. If your unit wants any of these supplies, please ask your area custodian.
  • Finally, if you’re looking for a reliable non-college source of masks for your personal use, the nonprofit Project N95 maybe worth a look. Note that they’re an outside organization, so we’re not vouching for them. And since the college is going to provide KN95s at no charge, we ask that individual units and people not use college funds to purchase masks from them or any other source.

Isolation

  • Students: If you develop a fever or other significant symptoms while in isolation and don’t think you can safely walk to pick up your to-go meals from Dodd, please talk to the staff in Health Services. They’re the ones who can help you figure it out. We ask that you not call Dining, since they’ll just have to redirect you to Health Services anyway.
  • Remember that if you have to move into isolation at any point you’ll need enough clean clothing to get through ten days! So this is a public service announcement: keep up with your laundry now. It will guarantee that you won’t have to wear the same socks for six or ten days later.
  • (Parents and families: you’re welcome for that one.)
  • You all received Marlene’s message yesterday about our new recover-in-place protocol. Housing is working on some further details, including about bathrooms, so look for a further communication from them soon.

Building maintenance

  • For the time being, custodians will do their first round of morning dorm cleanings earlier than usual. This will enable them to finish up and exit the dorms before there’s a lot of activity, which in turn reduces the level of traffic and potential for exposure. Consequently, the custodians will get to the academic and other buildings a little later in the day. We wanted you to know it’s for a good cause.

Travel

  • I hate writing messages full of  prohibitions and dire warnings almost as much as you hate being the recipient of them. Honestly, I wasn’t the strictest parent, so how has it come to this? Anyway, let’s make this the last caveat of the week: if you’re a student on campus for Winter Study, we encourage you not to take overnight trips between Winter Study and Spring Semester unless necessary. What’s “necessary”? You get to decide for yourself. But if you do decide to travel overnight and are part of the campus testing program, just know that you’ll be required to complete another round of arrival quarantine when you come back. So that’s a thing.

Enough with the gloom and doom. It’s going to snow a million and seven inches on Sunday and Monday. Enjoy.

Jim