There’s a fair amount of information to share this week, but I want to begin by acknowledging our shared concern about the Covid case count on campus as well as broader trends.
If you’re in isolation or quarantine I hope you’re doing OK. The same goes if you’re not but are worried about risk. Maud and all of us on Senior Staff are doing a lot of planning and are establishing some additional precautions, which are a major focus in this message:
I didn’t mention this last week and should have: we’re thinking about faculty and staff’s vaccination needs, as well as students’. No news yet: we’re continuing to talk to BMC about what’s possible, and will announce plans as soon as we know what our options are. But I did want to affirm that fact in the meantime.
Students, we’re also considering your transportation needs as part of the discussion. To answer a question that’s coming up already, the college unfortunately can’t provide individual transportation for people who may have found a vaccination appointment in Springfield, Boston, etc.
Campus reopening changes
I hate to announce this as much as you hate to have me announce it to you, but we’re postponing the planned opening of the Williamstown-North Adams corridor for student errands, which had been scheduled to start soon.
Here are some of the factors that fed into our decision:
- Wastewater testing in Pittsfield recently found traces of the U.K. variant of the coronavirus. This is perhaps the first sign that this highly contagious variant is in our region.
- The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams locked down a residential complex of more than 200 students and also paused athletics this week after recording at least 13 cases in a few days.
- Here at Williams, three students tested positive yesterday. The good news is that all three were already quarantining because of suspected exposure. This is what our containment strategy is meant to do: identify exposures early, get people sequestered and under medical supervision, and reduce the window for potential spread. Even so, we’re now at 8 people in isolation and 56 in quarantine. In the past two weeks alone we’ve recorded 10 new cases on campus, which represents a roughly 25% increase in positivity over the entire rest of the academic year so far.
This is one of those moments when prompt containment, thorough testing and basic public health precautions could make the difference between a continued increase and a plateau or downturn.
We hope we can revisit the decision about use of personal vehicles and access to the Route 2 corridor soon, but this isn’t the moment to increase travel and interactions. We’ll continue evaluating the situation, and hope the delay can be a brief one. If you need an exception or accommodation in the meantime, please contact the deans.
Anticipating a likely question, I don’t know how this relates to college-sponsored travel, including academic fields trips and athletics. Such trips were expected to start soon with heightened safety protocols (including rapid testing). We’re assessing options and will share information ASAP.
We’ve revised the college dashboard to include a line reporting the number of positive results in the last 24 hours. This feature was turned off after most students left in the fall, but there’s more Covid activity now and we brought it back to help you keep closer track of the trends.
Please also note that the text above the dashboard has been updated to explain the roughly 24-hour lag between when you take a Covid test and when the results show up on the dashboard. Many thanks to Bob McBain in Health Services, who religiously uploads the new data by 8 a.m. every day so that you’ll have the timeliest information we can give you.
Stigma and Covid-shaming
I want to re-emphasize a point made last fall: Any of us could catch Covid, no matter how careful we are. This is even more plausible with the very contagious UK variant around. So if someone tests positive, it doesn’t indicate that they were being careless or breaking rules. We’ve heard from students that there’s some shaming going on. Please don’t.
I know some folks think such statements are pointless, but I ask you all to please find ways to be careful and compassionate. This isn’t a time for judginess.
Quarantine and isolation
I had taken this as a given, but students, once you test positive or are identified as a close contact you’re required to go into campus isolation or quarantine immediately. If you’re concerned about whether you can handle the transition to quarantine or isolation, please consider going remote now to avoid that possibility. We don’t want you to leave, but once you test positive or become a close contact of someone who did you’ll no longer have that option. You’ll need to make the right decision for yourself, but this rule is 100% non-negotiable.
Also related to quarantining: staff are finding evidence of socializing in quarantine spaces. Everyone needs to be vigilant and not interact with others in the quarantine space in any way.
If you socialize in quarantine it increases the likelihood of your contracting COVID and having to move to isolation, which would restart the clock and extend your time in a restrictive setting.
Please schedule tests in CoVerified
Everyone, please use the CoVerified app or web portal to schedule tests. This is highly encouraged so that we can arrange sufficient staffing at the testing center. As you may have noticed, we have a pre-set number of testing appointments in each time slot, which is based on our throughput capacity. Unscheduled walk-ins cause backups, which are both inconvenient and risky because they increase adjacency. Thanks for your help.
I’ve been contacted by several local residents concerned about seeing people (often but not only students) who take their masks off to exercise and then don’t mask back up as they approach. Please have good COVID manners. If you unmask while you’re out by yourself, please re-mask as you approach any passers-by: give them 25 feet of space and keep your mask on from 25 feet before to 25 feet after you pass them.
Risk factors for Covid aren’t visible, so you’re better off assuming everyone you pass is at risk.
Dining system maintenance
Dining’s Order Ahead GET Ordering system will be down for maintenance from 9:00 p.m. this Saturday, March 27, until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 28. Only ASAP orders can be processed during this time. The outage will allow Dining to add allergen symbols next to each item in their system.
Thanks for your patience. If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to Dining at (413) 597-2121 or [email protected].
That’s it for this week. I’m sorry it couldn’t be more happy and fun stuff. It’s just not a super happy-fun moment, thanks to the virus, among other factors. But the weather is turning nice, and hopefully as we can spend more time outside it’ll create options to relax and see each other more. I had a nice chance to meet a real-live student, Emily Zheng ’21, on the way to work today, and it reminded me how much I miss you all.
Have a good and very safe weekend, everyone.