Dear members of the Williams community,
I am writing to you on the cusp of the New Year as I take stock, yet again, of a year touched by Covid. Like you, I am frustrated and tired by nearly two years of struggling against this problem. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not behind us. Therefore, we must continue to adapt our policies to reflect the changing realities and continue to work together in the best interest of the health of our community. This letter will remind you of some key policies and update you on new ones based on what we know about test results for students returning to campus thus far.
As you know from the news coverage about Omicron, the picture is mixed. On the one hand, Omicron is much more contagious than prior variants of coronavirus, which means the Williams campus is likely to see a more significant number of infections than we have seen until this point, even with expanded surveillance testing, isolation, protocols, and vaccination. On the other hand, we are learning that vaccinations plus boosters seem to prevent most infections from developing into serious illnesses. Our high vaccination rates on campus should help protect us going forward, and as you know, we have recently required that all faculty, students, and staff receive a booster by February 1, 2022, or within 30 days of becoming eligible.
As we seek to ensure that our academic and co-curricular programs can move forward while we control the spread of the virus as much as possible into the new year, we are making several additional changes to the protocols for returning students. All of these changes are driven by a core set of principles that have shaped all of our decisions thus far, including:
- Ensuring our education and research mission
- Supporting the physical and mental well-being of our community
- Maintaining to the highest degree possible our residential living and learning program
Please read the following details carefully as they include changes to information shared in prior communications. There is also information for faculty and staff below, so please read through the entire document.
Prior to Student Arrival
It would be helpful for us to know your travel plans prior to your arrival to ensure that the re-entry process around testing goes as smoothly as possible. With this in mind, the office of the Dean of the College will send a brief survey to you shortly. Please let us know which day you plan to return so we can plan accordingly and try to manage lines at the testing center as best we can.
In addition, as announced previously, before returning to campus, we are requesting that students get a Covid test if at all possible, understanding that access to tests is difficult at the moment. If you are unsure where to get a pre-arrival test, please use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services nationwide testing locator to find the nearest testing site to your location. We encourage PCR tests whenever possible, but rapid tests are an acceptable option if need be.
What to do if you have tested positive while away from campus
New CDC guidelines have shortened the period of isolation after a positive test. You may return to campus as early as DAY 6 after a positive test result if you have no symptoms or your symptoms have improved, and you have had no fever for 24 hours. You need to be masked in all locations until DAY 11, following your original positive test result.
If your positive test result means that you will need to postpone your arrival date beyond January 3, you should reach out to your class dean on Monday to let them know.
If you took a PCR test, please upload your positive PCR test to your health portal. If you only have a rapid test result (and no PCR confirmation), please email the Health Center and report the date that you received a positive result on your rapid test. You will then be removed from the PCR testing protocol for 90 days.
The Health Center will be open at 10 am on Monday, January 3. If you have pressing questions before then, please contact Dean Sandstrom by email.
Arrival and Testing
As soon as possible after arrival, students should get their first PCR test. Following that test, students should remain quarantined in their rooms until they receive a negative result. Note: this is a change from Dean Sandstrom’s letter of last week. Students can leave their rooms to pick up to-go food from the dining halls and to spend time outside (either alone or with others), but they must eat the food outside or in their rooms.
After one negative test, students are no longer required to quarantine but should continue to wear masks inside all buildings, including the common spaces of their residence halls, until passing a second negative test. After clearing two negative tests, students must continue to mask in all locations except their bedroom or common room or when they are outdoors. When the dining halls begin to provide eat-in options, students may unmask while eating. We will continue to monitor virus transmission on campus and plan to relax masking policies when it is safe to do so.
To facilitate moving through the quarantine process as quickly as possible, we will open the testing center on Sunday, January 2, 2022, from noon to 5:00 pm in the new location – the second floor of Greylock Hall. Thank you to our testing center colleagues who are making this possible! Subsequently, testing will be available Monday – Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm each day. Be sure to sign up for your Monday – Thursday testing appointments via CoVerified; you will not be able to sign up in CoVerified for the Sunday, January 2 testing, so you can attend this testing session without an appointment. Please remember that everyone will need to be tested upon returning, which means lines at the testing site will likely be long. Please be patient as we work to move everyone through.
As noted in Dean Sandstrom’s letter of December 22, following arrival and for the foreseeable future, students will be required to test twice a week. Details on this process will follow.
All winter study courses will begin as scheduled on January 3. However, the first week of classes and other events will be held remotely so as to allow for students to move through one negative test before convening in larger groups. We recognize this poses a hardship for many faculty, students, courses, and programs and again ask for your patience as we seek to bring a large number of people back to campus.
Students who have cleared one on-campus negative PCR may immediately begin work in labs, libraries, practice rooms, etc.
As noted above, all members of our community should be boosted by February 1. However, if you are eligible, please schedule a booster shot as soon as possible. To facilitate booster access to the Williams community, we will offer another all-campus booster clinic the morning of January 14. Additionally, a public booster clinic is scheduled for January 8 at Berkshire Community College. We will send further information about both of these clinics as we learn more, but please be aware that you will be required to pre-register for either of these clinics.
If you have received the booster already, please upload your information as soon as possible. Faculty should upload information to the Coverified site. Students should upload it to your Ephs Patient Portal.
- Log into the portal using your Williams username (email address not including the @williams.edu: e.g., ezw21) and password
- Select the “Upload” tab and from the dropdown menu
- Choose “COVID Test Result”
- Then proceed with the upload
Isolation and Quarantine
Per changes in the CDC guidelines, which have also been adopted by the state of Massachusetts, Williams is shortening the required isolation time for those who have tested positive for Covid from 10 days to five if symptoms have resolved. You will be required to wear a mask around others for the subsequent five days.
The new quarantine rules for close contacts will vary depending on whether or not you are fully up to date on vaccinations and boosters. If you have been boosted or are vaccinated but not yet eligible for a booster, you will need to monitor for symptoms, wear a mask around others for ten days, and test on day five.
If you are a close contact who is unvaccinated or eligible for a booster but not yet boosted, you will need to quarantine for five days, test on day five, and then continue to monitor for symptoms and wear a mask around others for an additional five days.
Faculty and Staff Testing
All vaccinated faculty and staff will continue to be required to test once per week. Staff in high contact jobs with close proximity to students and children will be required to test twice weekly upon returning from winter break through January 15. This includes staff who work in Dining and Custodial Services, Campus Safety Services, and the Children’s Center. Staff and faculty who have traveled or have been at increased risk of exposure to Covid are also encouraged to test twice weekly to help stop the potential spread. In addition, we offer the option of testing twice weekly to all staff and faculty.
My hope is once this wave of Omicron has diminished, we will be able to loosen some of our campus restrictions. As always, we will continue to move the levers available to us in response to changing data. I ask for your patience and forbearance as we continue to deal with the challenges the pandemic has posed.
My thoughts are with you as we enter the new year, and I look forward to seeing you on campus again soon.
Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies