College loosens some COVID-19 restrictions, reinstates outdoor dining tents

Megan Lin

Tents, like this one outside Paresky, have made their return to campus for the semester. (Megan Lin/The Williams Record)

The College shifted to Phase 2 of campus reopening on Monday, March 15. The lifting of restrictions comes two weeks later than anticipated, after President Maud S. Mandel announced that, in response to the Wood House party, Phase 2 would begin on March 15 rather than the initially expected March 1.

The new COVID guidelines will allow students to socialize with non-podmates indoors and enter other residential spaces — provided that they are properly masked and socially distanced — and give small pods the opportunity to merge.

“I’m very happy that we’ve reached the point at which students can socialize indoors with non-podmates,” Sandstrom wrote in an email to the Record

As the semester progresses, the College will likely continue to loosen restrictions. “We anticipate moving to Phase 3, which includes use of personal vehicles and limited off-campus movement, beginning on March 29,” Sandstrom said. Phase 3 will allow requests to open Co-Op kitchens and students to travel off-campus along the Williamstown-North Adams corridor, but no further.

As restrictions loosen, the ubiquitous outdoor dining tents from the fall semester have also made a reappearance. The tents were taken down when most students left campus last semester because of the risk of damage from cold and snow throughout the winter.

According to Director of Catering Jeanette Kopczynski, the tents have been updated since the fall to include doors and sturdier walls due to the possibility of snow. In mid-April, the tents will be replaced with ones with sides that roll up or slide open which will only be available in instances of poor weather.

The modifications made to the tents have sparked student concern that the tents resemble indoor dining too closely and do not provide adequate ventilation to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. A post in the “Williams memes for sun-dappled tweens” Facebook group compared eating in the tents to “indoor socializing with non-podmates” that the College prohibited this semester until Monday.

However, Kopczynski said that despite the thicker walls, the sides and top of the tents allow for air circulation, providing suitable ventilation to mitigate the risk of COVID transmission. “The tents and seating are set up within the acceptable guidelines to provide safe distancing,” she said.

Kopczynski also said it was difficult to tell whether there would be further changes to dining as the College loosens restrictions. “I think there may be some changes by the end of the semester, but these will all be dependent on the current guidelines at the College and state level,” she said.