CDC announcement and Williams public health rules

Williams students, faculty and staff,

Like many of you, the members of Senior Staff and I were excited by yesterday’s CDC announcement that vaccinated people are at no risk from unmasking or relaxed social distancing.

Also like many of you, we quickly began thinking about what the news meant for the college’s public health rules and senior celebration plans.

As eager as I am to let us ease our vigilance, Williams will continue with our current rules while we await expected guidance from the state. Governor Baker has made clear that the state’s current masking rules will continue while officials review the CDC guidance. We also need to assess the outlook with our own public health advisers—many of whom were as surprised by yesterday’s unscheduled announcement as the general public was.

We will update our campus rules as soon as we are able to reach an informed and safe judgment. Hopefully it will include relaxing our requirements. In the meantime, though, I want to emphasize a few points that some people overlooked in the excitement sparked by the headlines:

First, as noted above, the latest statement from Governor Baker’s administration says that, while he “welcomes the new CDC guidance and will be updating Massachusetts’ COVID restrictions in the near future… the current mask order remains in place.” The CDC explained that their recommendations do not supersede state-level requirements, and Williams and our people must abide by state guidelines.

Second, the majority of Williams students, faculty and staff only became eligible for vaccination in Massachusetts on April 19, so will not be fully vaccinated and protected from Covid until very late May or early June.

Finally, millions of Americans, including people in our community, are currently unvaccinated, because of either delayed access to vaccine or medical ineligibility. In considering whether or how to change our rules, we need to take time to think about the needs of every member of our community.

Again, I am as excited about the CDC announcement as all of you, and buoyed by the prospect of easing requirements on campus once we have a safe plan for doing so. We will let you know any details soon. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and continued adherence to the rules.