Changes to campus masking rules

Williams faculty, staff and students,

Monday isn’t usually a day for Ops updates, but I’m writing today with some off-cycle news.

The CDC recently released revised guidelines on masking. Meanwhile, cases in Berkshire County have declined to the point where we now rank as a “Medium” community for Covid severity. In consideration of these and related facts, Maud and Senior Staff have decided we’ll take another step in to ease campus masking restrictions.

Starting today, fully vaccinated and boosted faculty, staff and students may choose to unmask in indoor athletics and fitness facilities; academic and administrative buildings; and at campus-only events, in addition to in spaces where unmasking was already allowed.

Staff and faculty who teach or work in dorms may unmask there, too, as students were already allowed to do.

Finally, students may now be unmasked while choosing food at any Dining location, unless you’re in isolation and just picking up meals to go, in which case you should stay masked.

While the new CDC guidelines would in theory allow us to end all campus masking requirements today, Senior Staff appreciates that our community comprises people with diverse risk profiles and concerns. Out of respect for that diversity we’re continuing to move stepwise, pausing to let each round of changes settle in before pursuing further options.

For the time being, masking will still be required in the following locations for everyone, regardless of vaccination status:

  • In classes, with the exception of faculty who choose to unmask while teaching.
  • At campus Covid test sites and the Health Center.
  • At the Childrens’ Center, including both staff and families.
  • At the Williams College Museum of Art during hours when it’s open to the public; in the Libraries at all times; during indoor segments of Admission visits; and at indoor events open to off-campus visitors. (You can unmask during campus-only events.)
  • Managers, you and your teams can choose to retain stricter masking rules in your spaces if you wish. Please seek approval from your Senior Staff member. Then make sure the requirements are clearly posted and communicated to people visiting your work areas.

People who are unvaccinated or unboosted must also stay masked, as you have been up to now.

We think unmasking in classes is a likely next step, but not quite yet. Classrooms are distinctive in that attendance is required and opportunities for distancing may be limited. So we want to watch the test results for a period of time following today’s changes before deciding on the timing of such a change.

We also retain the option to re-impose campuswide rules if Covid rates increase.

Finally, everyone should continue to carry a mask on campus and use it whenever required or asked. Indeed, we expect that many members of our community will continue to mask even when it’s not required. Please respect such decisions and everyone’s need for safety, and remember that we rarely know the full story of each other’s circumstances.

I hope today’s announcement makes life and work a little easier for some while also looking out for the needs of others who aren’t ready or able to unmask. On behalf of the whole Senior Staff, we hope to be able to announce further steps this spring, if the situation remains stable. Please do what you can to help by being cautious and safe, as you’ve done so well, so far.

Jim