Update on coronavirus measures, week of March 4

Dear Williams students, faculty and staff,

Following is this week’s email on COVID-19. Because the situation is changing constantly, we’re going to launch a college website where you can find updates and additional information at any time. Look for an announcement once the site goes live later this week.

The first thing we want you to know is that the college’s academic mission and your health and safety are our top priorities. If decisions need to be made or actions taken, we’re going to do so with those concerns foremost in mind. A leadership team is conferring daily to review emerging developments and promptly make any necessary decisions.

Study Away

Study away is an area of particularly intense focus right now. On Monday, the CDC released guidance recommending that colleges and universities “consider” postponing or canceling all student foreign exchange programs anywhere in the world. College leaders met to consider what’s best for Williams. We instructed community members in countries with a Level 3 or higher advisory to leave those countries, and that process is underway. The college won’t allow any further Williams-sanctioned travel to these countries until the outbreak subsides and the CDC warning level decreases.

Students in other countries will be permitted to remain where they are for now, but have been advised to stay in close touch with their program providers and monitor their situations very carefully, since advisories can be upgraded without warning. Useful sources of real-time updates include the COVID-19 websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization, as well as the Department of State’s travel advisory page. The college will also contact directly anyone who’s affected by the changes.

Williams students whose study away has been canceled are being offered online completion options by their programs. We’ve advised them to return home, since established college policy doesn’t allow students to live in residence halls or use college facilities (dining, libraries, fitness center, etc.) if they aren’t registered in classes on campus for that term. We’re sympathetic to the challenges this poses for returning students. Director of International Education and Study Away Christina Stoicu will work with people individually as needed. If someone you know has questions or concerns, encourage them to talk to Christina.


Given the rapidly developing nature of the situation, we now strongly recommend that everyone seriously reconsider the risks of traveling anywhere, now or over spring break. Some factors to think about:

  1. College-sponsored travel to countries with a level 3 or higher status isn’t permitted as long as that status is in effect. At present this category includes China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. Other countries could be added at any time.

  2. While a destination may seem “safe” now, that could quickly change, and you could wind up being prevented from re-entering the U.S. or returning to campus, or could be subjected to a lengthy quarantine.

  3. The college will require that anyone visiting locations rated level 3 or higher complete the CDC-recommended 14 day self-isolation and be symptom-free before returning to Williams. Self-isolation can’t be completed on campus due to the risk of further exposure, so could require missing classes, work and other commitments. This self-isolation requirement applies to faculty and staff, as well as students.

  4. Many cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed around the U.S., including clusters in Washington, California, New Hampshire, New York, and elsewhere. It would be a mistake to assume that domestic travel is risk-free. For this reason, we advise avoiding all travel as much as you can until the outbreak subsides.

  5. If you decide to make your trip as scheduled, please register your plans via the college’s Google form and with International SOS. As always, submissions will be treated as “need to know” according to Williams’ data classification rules.

Remaining on campus for spring break

Students, as we mentioned in last week’s update, you may stay on campus over spring break if you choose, and dining options will be provided. In fact, we strongly encourage you to consider this option. In order to help us prepare for a larger than usual number of students remaining on campus during the break, please register here to let us know your plans.

Next steps

A lot of work is happening behind the scenes to consider various scenarios and anticipate the implications. This includes assessing the potential impact on our academic program; analyzing dining, housing and other operational capacities; and reviewing protocols and options for complex events, athletics, arts and other public programming. For now, all events are continuing as planned, but this, too, may have to change with little notice if the outbreak persists.

We’ll inform you of any decisions in these areas when and if they’re made, but for now want you to know we’re taking steps to prepare even while hoping that our preparations are never needed.

Public health experts continue to advise that the best way to protect yourself is through good hygiene: get a flu shot, wash hands frequently and thoroughly (for a minimum of 20 seconds), cover your face when you cough or sneeze, and avoid contact or proximity with anyone who’s already ill. Many experts recommend singing “Happy Birthday” twice in a row as a way to count out twenty seconds, but if you don’t like that song here are some light-hearted alternatives.

If you don’t feel well yourself, please avoid coming to class or work and instead contact your healthcare provider for advice. Students should call Health Services before coming in. Walk-ins won’t be accepted for the time being.

Before closing, we want to note that there have been reports in the media of people being targeted for harassment or violence in response to the outbreak—especially people identified as Asian. We’re not aware of any such incidents at Williams, but if you experience bias or know someone who has, please report it via the Bias Incident Reporting form so the college can take appropriate action. You can report anonymously if you wish. COVID-19 spreads by a virus, and transmission has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or national origin.

We hope you can continue to have a safe and healthy semester, and we’ll do everything we can to keep it that way! We appreciate your partnership in that effort. Again, all of this information, plus useful links and a directory of contacts for any questions, will be available on the new website when it launches.

All best wishes,

Marlene and Steve