One semester, ten cases: A timeline

Joey Fox and Annie Lu

With most students leaving campus behind, the Record looks back on the semester’s positive COVID tests. (Devika Goel/The Williams Record)

Fourteen weeks since students first arrived on campus for the fall semester. 44,139 COVID tests conducted since Aug. 17. Ten positive test results on campus. 

Of these 10 positives in Williamstown, seven cases occurred among students, while three occurred among faculty and staff members at the College. With the exception of the first case, all the other student positives led to the College placing close contacts and podmates into quarantine housing. 

The first student tested positive upon checking in to campus in late August but did not have close contact with anyone. On Sept. 6, a second student tested positive, also upon their arrival to campus. Since the student had taken a College Motorcoach the day before, all other passengers on the same Motorcoach trip moved to Dodd on Sept. 8, presenting the first test of the College’s mandatory two-week quarantine procedure. 

A third student on campus tested positive on Sept. 12, resulting in their pod quarantining in Dodd as well. By this time, the first positive-testing student had completed the full incubation period and tested negative, allowing them to re-integrate into campus. 

On Sept. 27, the first faculty or staff member tested positive.

The fourth student to test positive received their test result on Oct. 3 while eating brunch with non-podmates. The student and their podmates moved to isolation and quarantine housing respectively that same day, but the non-podmates did not receive official notice from the College to move to quarantine until two days later.

On Oct. 28, the fifth student to test positive was attending a remote class in their dorm when the Health Center contacted them by phone. The student and their pod entered isolation and quarantine housing shortly thereafter.

That same day, another faculty or staff member at the College tested positive as well.

Though there has been speculation that some positive results may have been false positives,  College policy is to treat all positive tests as if they were genuine, according to Director of Medical Services Deb Flynn. “Currently there is no way to differentiate a ‘false’ positive from a ‘true’ positive,” Flynn said.

Across the Atlantic, the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford (WEPO) experienced three positive tests among its 22 students. Two occurred in quick succession, one on Oct. 31 and a second on Nov. 3; over half of the students at WEPO had to quarantine for two weeks due to living in the same housing pod as one of the positive cases. A third WEPO student tested positive on Nov. 20. None of the positive test results at WEPO are included on the College’s coronavirus dashboard.

Exeter College, where WEPO is located, experienced a significant surge in COVID-19 cases around the same time as the first two cases among WEPO students, with 23 positive cases among approximately 550 students as of Oct. 29. 

In Williamstown, the College did not experience any confirmed positive cases for another three weeks until Nov. 18, when three cases were added to the coronavirus dashboard at once: the sixth and seventh students, as well as a third faculty or staff member.

The positives came a few days after Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom’s Nov. 12 all-campus email warning of the recent rise of COVID cases both in Massachusetts and nationwide, encouraging students to avoid leaving campus.

The staff member who tested positive was working remotely and is staying off campus, according to Sandstrom.

The two student cases, which occurred in different dorms across campus, resulted in 15 additional podmates and close contacts being quarantined in Dodd for a minimum of 10 days, in accordance with new state guidelines

The 15 close contacts currently in quarantine and two positive students currently in isolation cannot leave campus until the end of their quarantine period, even as most on-campus students return home for the remainder of the fall semester. According to Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische, the students may exit quarantine upon remaining asymptomatic for 10 days and testing negative on the eighth day.

With only a fraction of students remaining on campus after this past weekend, the College will scale down its testing to only once per week, on Mondays. The COVID dashboard will continue to update with numbers of tests conducted and positive cases identified.