Campus Operations and Business Continuity Update

Hi everyone,

As Maud mentioned in her faculty/staff email this afternoon, we’re now experiencing what some experts call “the pandemic off-ramp.” A lot of this week’s message is about the consequences of being on it during a societal traffic jam: Many folks are vaccinated while many more aren’t. Some are in a hurry to get places while others are willing to wait things out. Experiences, emotions and opinions are all snarled up. Which is making planning and policy work challenging (sorry, I hate that word).

Here’s the clearest report I can give you as we live through a massive phase shift:

Staff stuff

  • Don’t call it return to work!: That’s right, we’ve been working all along. But staff and faculty just received the aforementioned announcement from Maud that remote staff should plan to return to working on campus between mid-June and late August. Students, you’re welcome to check out the news, too.

I want to emphasize that timing: we won’t be asked to even start coming back for somewhere between seven and eighteen more weeks. There’s every reason to believe the vaccination and public health outlook will continue to improve in the meantime. So it’s a big ask, but please do your best not to think about the news as if we had to move back today. As always we’ll track the data and adjust course if the outlook changes.

You’ll also have lots of practical questions. That’s a good thing: there are a lot of questions we should have. Please direct yours to your manager or department chair, who can gather them up and route them to the right folks for answers (HR, Facilities, OIT, etc.).

Vaccination stuff

  • Testing is still required: Through the end of this term at a minimum, faculty and staff who want to be on campus are required to participate in college Covid testing, even if you’re vaccinated. You can join the program at any time. Vaccination has no demonstrated effect on test results, so you can schedule a test even right after a shot.
  • Masking also still required and also still social distancing, also: CDC and state guidelines are now out of sync: Massachusetts seems to indicate that everyone can unmask outdoors, whereas the CDC recommends it only for people who are fully vaccinated. No matter: The college is keeping to current protocols through the end of the term. That means masking will still be required even outdoors, anytime you’re with or near others, and social distancing will be required even outside, too.

Wondering why?

    • At Williams students live, dine and socialize together in close quarters. That’s a very different environment from the one addressed by federal and state guidelines, which are no match for the social impulses of almost two thousand people mostly in their late teens and early twenties. Nothing could withstand that.
    • Only a tiny fraction of students will be fully vaccinated by the end of the term. Those who got a Pfizer shot on April 19 (the first day the state program was open to college-age people) won’t complete the process and achieve full protection until May 31 at the earliest, while those who got Moderna that day won’t be ripe until June 7.
    • Although campus and Williamstown infection rates are low, Berkshire County as a whole (where most of us live) remains at very high risk.

As a reminder, face coverings are always required when you’re in any indoor space other than your pod or a private dorm room or office with its door closed.

And if you think I’m all about telling you what you can’t do… well… you’re sorta right. It’s that kind of week. But, students, here’s a quick reminder about some of what you can do.

Short version: a lot.

  • We’re slightly smarter than machines for now: If you’re searching Vaxfinder for appointments in North Adams or Pittsfield, skip the search by ZIP code, which yields all manner of locations you don’t care about, and do a keyword search for “Elizabeth” (North Adams) or “Berkshire Community College” (Pittsfield). There! You’ve found what you’re looking for more quickly, and prolonged human dominance over machine intelligence, too. For now. Maybe.

We’ve heard vaccine clinics will likely be offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday next week. Check last week’s message for tips on how to make an appointment.

Campus life stuff

  • Popup Snar is neither a second-wave polka band nor a minor medical condition: Dining is planning to offer one last popup Snar, serving some of your favorite snacks before finals. Follow them on Instagram @diningwilliamscollege to get updates.

The state plans to lift a lot of dining-related restrictions on August 1. With that in mind, the Dining crew will host a virtual student town hall to describe plans to continuously enhance the dining experience, and the ways that some of their innovations will carry over into future plans.

@diningwilliamscollege will be your best source of info about the town hall, but they’ll email you about it, too.

  • All Storage for All the People: New storage plan! New storage plan! Doug emailed students earlier today with the good news: “an expanded Student Storage Program has been approved and is now available to all returning students living on campus.” And make sure you didn’t miss this part: Advance sign-ups are required, and are due by Thursday, May 6.

So do it. Do it now.

If you’re a student who’s leaving in May and returning in June for the summer, you can use the new program to have the college store your things while you’re gone. Connors Brothers will deliver them to your summer housing for your return. Just be sure to write “STORE UNTIL JUNE” in BIG, BOLD letters on each item you want brought back in June.

  • Summer housing-o-rama: OCL will hold a lottery in mid- to late May where students approved to stay on campus this summer will be able to choose summer housing in pick groups of from 1 to 5 people (the max pod size is 5 for this summer). We’re using Currier, East, Fayerweather, Fitch, Mission, Morgan and Prospect for general summer student housing. Look for an email from OCL with details in the next week or two.
  • Fall housing, fall return and then fall check-in: The fall housing lottery for returning students will take place sometime TBD this summer. We don’t know yet when fall check-in will begin, but we’ll figure it out soon. We’ll let you know as soon as we know, and ideally not before then. There will be advance check-in signups available once the dates are set.
  • Refrigeration: We’ll leave microfridges in all dorm rooms for this summer and next academic year. No need to purchase your own or bring one to campus. If you stored a fridge this year, please reach out to Marsha Benoit (a.k.a. Marsha Peters, who famously emptied the Towne Fieldhouse last summer!) to retrieve, donate or recycle it.

That’s all.

Happy weekend!

Jim