Covid rates and public health measures on campus

Dear Williams students, faculty and staff,

We’re writing with important news about Covid rates and measures on campus.

As of today the college has recorded six positive Covid tests among students in the last seven days. Five are reported on our Covid dashboard, and the sixth will be posted in the morning. All six students were moved to isolation and are being monitored for their health. A further 59 students are in quarantine as a result of interactions with them.

This includes the results from Monday’s tests. That batch included two positives, of which one was already in quarantine, and so was moved directly from there to isolation. The other positive was the PCR confirmation of a rapid test result, based on which the student had already gone straight to isolation. In sum, the Monday results don’t show evidence of significant spread. Many of the students in quarantine are at the tail end of that period, so will cycle out within the next few days.

Nonetheless, the upticks in both categories are significant and concerning, both for those affected and for the many of us who are anxious about safety. The news also comes in the wider context of rising infection rates for the county and the Northeast as a whole.

In terms of the college’s plan and ability to manage Covid cases and contacts, we’re still well within the range of what our model is designed to handle. But we do want to let you know that we’re monitoring the situation closely, explain what safety measures we’ll take if we see further cases, and remind you what we can each do to protect ourselves and each other, as well.

Our campus approach is based on a three-pronged public health model: education and prevention; testing and containment; and behavioral guidelines and consequences. We unfortunately had to move into enforcing rules after the Wood House party, which was an egregious violation according to campus guidelines.

This weekend we learned after the fact about another gathering, involving about 20-25 people in Gladden House. Two students whom we know to have attended the gathering have since tested positive for Covid. For that reason, in this case we’ve moved promptly into testing and containment mode.

After learning from peers that a student at the Gladden gathering had tested positive, twelve other students immediately contacted the Health Center to describe their behavior and ask whether they needed to quarantine. Their prompt disclosure to our healthcare staff, in light of a positive case, falls under our medical amnesty program.  All twelve students were tested and a few were identified as close contacts by contact tracing standards, which involve being within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes, whether masked or unmasked. The majority of students in Gladden did not qualify as close contacts according to this definition.

In short, our amnesty policy did exactly what it’s designed to do: encourage people to come forward in the immediate aftermath of discovering a relevant Covid case, so we can quickly identify and try to contain the virus.

Meanwhile, the college is investigating whether those who attended  the Gladden event and did not come forward violated college rules, and if so to what extent. Students were allowed to socialize in other residential spaces other than their own, as long as they abided by social distancing rules and occupancy limits. We are seeking to determine whether those rules were followed.

We’re treating the Gladden incident somewhat differently than Wood House. There is no excuse for rule-breaking or risky behavior in any case. But our plan has to prioritize health and safety first. After a gathering with two known positives in attendance, we have a duty to utilize every tool at our disposal, including medical amnesty, to contain the spread. If you attended the Gladden gathering and haven’t come forward yet, you need to do so immediately.

To be clear, students will not be allowed to invoke medical amnesty as a way to avoid consequences: it applies only in cases of a known danger to life or health.

As far as next steps, if we see further signs of community spread we’ll inform campus, and may announce further college measures. These could include things like temporarily limiting or canceling access to the Route 2 corridor, or moving all classes to remote for a specified period of time and limiting or pausing in-person co-curricular activities.

No one wants that—including us. So many of those on campus have worked so hard for so long to protect ourselves and each other. We know that the most effective protection is always vigilance in masking, social distancing and handwashing, backed by participation in the college testing program. Please stay away from parties and large gatherings.  As the weather warms, we hope that students have a wider variety of options for socializing safely with non-podmates outside.

We thank everyone for making the choices that have kept us safe, and we ask that each person commit to helping us avoid spread and complete the semester together.

Maud and Marlene