Update to campus masking recommendation

Williams faculty, staff and students,

During the first week of the term we’ve seen a significant number of Covid cases on campus. While the reported cases are mostly students with mild or asymptomatic infections, we want to limit health risks and disruption to classes, work and campus life.

In order to try and slow the spread, Maud and Senior Staff now strongly encourage everyone to mask in all academic and administrative buildings until the end of September. (See additional details below about arts, athletics, libraries and other campus spaces that receive significant off-campus traffic.)

As a reminder, faculty are always welcome to require masks in your courses at your discretion. Administrative offices may also choose to require masking in consultation with your managers.

We’ll continue to review the data and will be prepared to extend the recommendation, elevate it to a requirement or even announce additional rules if needed. We hope to avoid any such need by urging people to voluntarily mask now, for your own health and the safety of those around you. No one wants to get sick or to miss classes, activities and life in general because of isolation. And we don’t want you to, either. Masking is an important part of the prevention effort.

In the same spirit we’re also looking into options for possible Covid booster clinics for the Williams community. No promises yet, but we’ll inform you if those efforts pan out. Meanwhile, the new booster shots are already available at many local pharmacies and appointments seem to be fairly easy to get.

Here are some additional details about the recommendation:

  • Because dorms and dining spaces have unique characteristics we’re not addressing them in this announcement. However, masking in those spaces will of course help, and we invite all students to do so when you can—especially in group settings.
  • Masking isn’t required at athletics practices and competitions either, but we strongly recommend that participants mask whenever you’re not actively in play.
  • Masking is strongly encouraged but not for now required in the fitness center.
  • Visitors and spectators are strongly encouraged to mask at events and competitions, while visiting the Williams College Museum of Art, libraries, ’62 Center, etc.
  • As a reminder, organizers may go the extra step and actually require masks at campus events. If you decide to do so, please publicize this expectation in advance and have extra masks on hand at the door.

In response to questions, the college isn’t considering reintroducing mandatory asymptomatic PCR testing at present. As we explained when we ended the program last spring, the multi-day process of PCR testing, analysis and reporting takes too long to be helpful against fast-spreading variants. We deactivated the campus Covid dashboard at that same time, because the validity of the underlying data depended on campus-wide participation in a mandatory surveillance program.

Covid is present on the Williams campus this fall, as it is on many campuses and in many communities. Our best protection is to mask when around others (especially in group settings); to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible; to self-test if symptoms develop; and, if you find out you’re positive, to report the result and isolate promptly, seeking treatment if necessary. You can find detailed information on all of this in the Student and Faculty/Staff guides on the Covid website.

Masking isn’t the most fun thing ever. But it’s relatively simple, it works and we’ve all done it before. Some of us never stopped. So, please, mask up for the next few weeks if you can. A little bit of community commitment now should help us move past this moment, back to the kind of semester you all planned to have—and that we want for you.

Jim Reische