New COVID isolation protocol

Dear Williams students,

I am writing to introduce you to a new isolation protocol that the college will implement this week. We have designed it to reduce disruption to people’s lives while still protecting public health for our community.

For context, Williams like many schools has seen a significant increase in positive Covid results this month. As of this morning, we are seeing a 7-day positivity rate of 2.51%, with 72 positive test results in the past week.

We expected an uptick given the spread of the Omicron variant, and have approximately 152 beds designated for isolation and quarantine use. However, use of those beds has required that we relocate every student who tests positive.

While the approach has worked to date, it is unlikely to be sustainable given our increase in cases. Fortunately, we have learned from our conversations with other schools that a recover-in-place strategy has worked for them as an alternative. Indeed, our relatively high proportion of single rooms gives us an advantage in this regard, since it allows us to move to such an approach while also providing isolation space for positive students who live in doubles.

Based on our analyses and projections, and having reviewed our plans with local public health experts, Williams will now move to a predominantly recover in place protocol. Here is what this means for students, followed by some additional details:

Students who currently live in singles

  • Starting this week, if you live in a single room and test positive you will isolate in your current room.

Students who currently live in doubles

  • If you test positive you will relocate out of your double into a designated isolation room until you are medically cleared to return.

  • If you are the roommate of someone who tests positive, but you continue to test negative, you will stay in your current room.

  • If you and your roommate both test positive at the same time, you will isolate together in your current room.

Students who test positive and can get home via a personal vehicle may work with Health Services to determine whether they can complete isolation at home. Please speak with a Health staff member before leaving campus.

 

This new approach will help us focus on our goal of limiting the risk of contagion, while helping us minimize disruption to people’s living arrangements, particularly in the middle of the term.

Here are additional details of the plan:

  • We have designated bathrooms in each building for use only by people who are isolating in place. This is meant to minimize interaction and the risk of spread. The signs will also indicate the times when those bathrooms will be cleaned, and there will be cleaning caddies available for in-between use. Please do not use the designated bathrooms unless you have tested positive for COVID.

  • During isolation you will pick up your own takeout meals from the Dodd Dining Room. The kitchen will be open for meal pick-up between 11:30-1:30 daily, and you will be able to pick up lunch and dinner at that time, as well breakfast items for the next morning. You will be required to wear a mask throughout the pick-up process. Please wear the KN95 mask that will be provided to you in a kit from the Health Center. Students who develop serious symptoms will be provided with alternate meal arrangements. Note: All students who are isolating in place in their own rooms, or who are isolating at Parsons, Sewall or Thompson, will shift to picking up their own meals beginning tomorrow, Thursday, January 13th. Students who are isolating at the Williams Inn will continue to receive meal deliveries and do not need to pick up meals at Dodd.

  • Health Center staff will explain the criteria for release from isolation to you if you test positive. Since the CDC’s recommendations on isolation are evolving, we will continue to review our own criteria and update them as needed, based on current science and policy.

Even while moving to recover in place we will also continue tracking the campus data around the clock. If the campus case count continues to rise despite the new approach, then we have the option of moving to stricter policies, including campus-wide isolation, limiting off-campus travel, etc. None of us want those things to be necessary. To avoid them, we hope you will join us in doing everything possible now, by honoring isolation/quarantine protocols, masking reliably and limiting indoor gatherings. It is especially important to be respectful to all of the staff members who are working so hard to support us. Please be sure to be masked in their presence at all times.

Rather than ending on a down note, we want to take this time to acknowledge and thank each of you for everything you have done and are doing to care for yourselves and each other, and to ensure the resilience of this learning community. It is not easy or fun, but with some effort it will get us back to a point at which we can relax and more fully enjoy the pleasures of winter and spring in the Berkshires.

All best wishes,

Marlene