COVID campus updates: College reports 21 new student and 12 new faculty and staff positive cases

January 20, 2022

Staff at the testing center in Greylock Hall. (Sam Riley/The Williams Record)

This is an evolving story. Amid a return from winter break and the surging Omicron variant, the College has significantly altered its COVID-19 policies, including shortening isolation periods to match new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tightening its surveillance testing regimen, and moving the first week of Winter Study to remote learning. The Record is providing breaking news coverage as updates come. This page will be updated as the situation develops.

College reports 21 new student and 12 new faculty and staff positive cases

Jan. 20 | 3 p.m.
On Thursday, the College reported 21 new student and 12 new faculty and staff positive cases.  2041 test results were added to the COVID dashboard around 1:15 p.m. This brings the weekly positive total to 63 for students, faculty, and staff combined, and 43 for students. The College’s positivity rate is down to 1.46 percent today. The highest recorded rate was 3.48 percent on Jan. 3, according to the dashboard.

College reports nine new student and four faculty and staff positive cases

Jan. 15 | 11 a.m. 

On Saturday, The College reported nine new student and four new faculty and staff positive cases. 1123 test results were added to the COVID dashboard around 10:45 a.m. This brings the weekly positive total to 97 for students, faculty, and staff combined, and 73 for students.

College reports 12 new student and four faculty and staff positive cases

Jan. 14 | 11:00 a.m. 

On Friday, The College reported 12 new student and four new faculty and staff positive cases. 1112 test results were added to the COVID dashboard around 9:05 a.m. This brings the weekly positive total to 100 for students, faculty, and staff combined, and 76 for students. There is a new tab on the dashboard titled “Williams test data” that reflects testing data and running totals. The tab includes 7-day total tests, 7-day total positives, running total tests, running total positives, and running total student positives.

First week of spring semester to be held remotely

The first week of the spring semester — Feb. 2 through Feb. 9 — will be held remotely, President Maud S. Mandel announced in an all-campus email today. Barring significant changes to the on-campus COVID-19 outlook, in-person instruction will resume on Feb. 10, Mandel wrote. Claiming Williams Day, which is scheduled for Feb. 3, will also occur remotely.

Students who are currently on campus and do not travel off campus overnight before the start of the spring semester will not be required to complete an arrival quarantine in February, according to Mandel’s email. These students will instead continue with the normal twice-weekly testing protocol.

Students who take any personal overnight trips between now and the start of the spring semester must go through the arrival quarantine process again, Mandel wrote. This requirement does not apply to students who travel overnight for any supervised, college-sponsored trips — such as faculty-led Winter Study field trips, career treks, or varsity athletic travel. Students who have tested positive for COVID in the past 90 days will also be exempt from the quarantine process if they travel off-campus overnight, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom told the Record in a Jan. 10 email.

Students who are spending Winter Study away from campus should return by Feb. 1, as long as they receive a negative result from a pre-arrival COVID test, Mandel wrote, noting that students who receive a positive test result should delay their arrival to campus. 

According to Mandel, students returning to campus for the spring semester who were not on campus during Winter Study must move into their dorms on Feb. 1. Students must not move in prior to Feb. 1, as College staff will be cleaning their rooms before then, Mandel wrote. She added that students should not move in after Feb. 1, as a later move-in date may not provide enough time for them to receive two negative results from COVID tests spaced 48 to 72 hours apart, which they must have before attending in-person classes.

The Broad Institute currently returns test results to the College within approximately 48 hours, according to Mandel’s email. “Thus, if you return later than February 1 you will likely have to miss the first days of in-person classes while completing your required arrival quarantine,” she wrote.

Once students arrive on campus for the spring semester, they will be expected to schedule a COVID test through CoVerified as soon as possible. These students must remain in their rooms until they receive their first negative test — though they will be permitted to leave to pick up to-go meals from the dining halls (as long as they are masked) and to “get outside for fresh air,” according to Mandel’s email. 

After receiving their first negative test result, students may leave their rooms as long as they remain masked in all indoor spaces. Students with one negative test result are permitted to be in all indoor spaces around campus except for classrooms. Once students receive their second negative, they will be permitted to attend class in person and may unmask in their “private common room,” if they have one, Mandel wrote. These students are still expected to be masked in all other indoor spaces.

The College will not allow students to consume food or drinks at meetings of Registered Student Organizations or other student groups and will discourage large gatherings, Mandel wrote. She noted that these changes to COVID rules follow “current data and lessons learned from on-boarding students during Winter Study,” but are subject to change. 

“As in the fall, we will relax stricter guidelines once we are convinced that case numbers are decreasing to a manageable level,” Mandel wrote.

College reports 14 new student and four faculty and staff positive cases

Jan. 13 | 12:25 p.m. 

On Thursday, The College reported 14 new student and four new faculty and staff positive cases. 809 test results were added to the COVID dashboard around 11:30 a.m. This brings the weekly positive total to 102 for students, faculty, and staff combined, and 80 for students.

College announces new “recover-in-place” policy as part of COVID isolation protocol

Jan. 12 | 5:30 p.m.

In a campus-wide email sent on Wednesday, Jan. 12, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom announced a “recover-in-place” strategy for students who test positive for COVID-19. The College will permit students who test positive to isolate in their rooms, as long as they live in a single dorm. Students who live in doubles who test positive will be moved to isolation housing, while their roommate will remain in the original double room, as long as they continue to test negative. If both roommates test positive at the same time, they will isolate together in their double room.  

The policy is a distinct change from the previous isolation protocol, in which all students who tested positive were moved to isolation rooms in Thompson, Parsons, Sewell, and the Williams Inn. Sandstrom noted that the change arose due to a recent uptake in COVID cases on campus as a result of the Omicron variant and to make better use of the College’s 152 isolation beds. Between Dec. 28 and Jan. 12, 134 students tested positive, according to the College’s COVID dashboard

Sandstrom noted that because case numbers are likely to keep rising, continuing the current strategy of moving all students who test positive would prove “unlikely to be sustainable” given the lack of available rooms. 

The new “recover-in-place” policy was intended to ​“reduce disruption to people’s lives while still protecting public health for our community,” and Sandstrom explained that the decision to move to a new isolation protocol arose out of conversations with other schools that reported success with the strategy. The email noted that students who test positive are permitted to return home to isolate themselves if they have a personal vehicle and live within driving distance, or if they can get picked up, as long as they communicate with the Health Center. This option has also been available to students since Sandstrom introduced it in a Jan. 3 email

Sandstrom added that specific bathrooms would be designated in each dorm for those isolating in place. Each residence hall will have one bathroom specifically for students who have tested positive.

Self-isolating students and students who are currently isolating in Parsons, Sewall, or Thompson will pick up their meals from the Dodd dining hall and are required to use the KN95 masks provided by the Health Center. The kitchen will be open from 1:30-3:00 p.m., during which time students will pick up their lunch, dinner, and breakfast meals for the next day. According to Sandstrom, students with serious symptoms will be “provided with alternate meal arrangements.” Students currently isolating in the Williams Inn will continue to receive meal deliveries. 

The College has not announced changes to any of its other COVID protocols, but Sandstrom noted that if cases continue to rise, the administration could move to stricter protocols, including a campus-wide isolation or limiting off-campus travel. 

College reports 18 new student cases and five faculty and staff cases

Jan. 10 | 1:20 p.m.

On Monday, the College reported that 18 students and five faculty and staff members tested positive for COVID, according to the COVID dashboard, which was updated at around 12:20 p.m. This brings the weekly total positives for students, faculty, and staff to 126, and 107 for students. The College reported 1168 test results on Monday.

College reports 20 new student and seven new faculty and staff positive cases

Jan. 12 | 10:45 a.m. 

On Wednesday, The College reported 20 new student and seven new faculty and staff positive cases. 1666 test results were added to the COVID dashboard around 9:30 a.m. This brings the weekly positive total to 83 for students, faculty, and staff combined, and 66 for students.

College confirms in-person classes to begin on Jan. 10, extends take-out only service in dining halls

Jan. 7 | 9:50 p.m.

Winter Study courses will return to in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 10, Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische announced in an all-campus email this afternoon. He noted that the College will change its plan depending on the COVID-19 outlook, but this return to in-person teaching is based on the College’s current policies on masking, regular surveillance testing, high vaccination rates, and the College’s ability to respond to positive test results so far.

Dining halls will be open for take-out only through Jan. 16 — all seating areas inside these areas will be closed, Reische wrote. He added that the GET App, the College’s mobile food ordering system, will be offline on Jan. 10 and Jan. 11 for a system update. During this time, Fresh & Go will be open for walk-through pick-up, Lee Snack Bar and Eco Café will be open for in-person ordering, and ’82 Grill will be closed, according to the College’s Dining website.

Reische also wrote that all students should test on Tuesday and Thursday during the week of Jan. 17, since all campus COVID testing sites will be closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Otherwise, students with last names starting with letters A through L should schedule tests on Mondays and Wednesdays beginning Jan. 10, whereas students with last names starting with letters M through Z should schedule tests on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Reische’s email also recommended that members of the campus community wear KN95 masks, with double-masking by layering a cloth mask over a surgical mask as an alternative. Reische also noted that the College will provide students who move into isolation with the “appropriate masks.” Due to the Omicron variant’s high rate of transmission, the College also suggests wearing masks while socializing outside when within six feet of others. Reische also noted that cloth masks alone are not sufficient to stop Omicron’s spread.

 Faculty and staff who test positive will be required to self-isolate at home for at least five days, according to the College’s website. They are allowed to return to work on the sixth day after their positive test if they no longer have any symptoms and have 24 hours without a fever. Those who return to work after a positive test must wear a KN95 mask — which the College will provide — everywhere on campus, both inside and outside, through the tenth day. If symptoms continue past the fifth day, they must quarantine for a full 10 days and may return to work on day 11. 

While personal travel is not prohibited, Reische wrote that it is “definitely discouraged, since Covid rates are lower on campus than off.” Reische also announced that students who leave campus during the week between the end of Winter Study and the start of the spring semester will be required to quarantine upon return. Students who stay on campus will only be required to continue their assigned testing schedule.

In a follow-up email to the Record, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom clarified that students who have tested positive within the last 90 days do not need to test upon arrival and therefore will not be required to quarantine after returning if they leave campus before the beginning of the spring semester. They would, however, still be required to follow all other COVID guidelines, such as masking in all indoor spaces excluding their room and personal common room. 

Reische added that college events would be restricted to faculty, staff, and students, with the exception of admission tours, which will be conducted solely outdoors. Members of the public, outside of guest speakers, job candidates, and others explicitly invited by the College, will only be allowed inside the libraries and the Williams College Museum of Art. 

Reische expressed the College’s expectations that students make an effort to minimize in-person activities. “Informal gatherings of any size or duration are strongly discouraged,” he wrote. “This isn’t a good time for parties or large get-togethers.” 

In a campus-wide email on Jan. 10, Director of Student Involvement and Events Mike Bodnarik elaborated on the College’s policy on social gatherings. Though it is recommended that students meet virtually if possible, any request for an in-person meeting or event must be submitted through the College Room Scheduler and many not involve eating or drinking. Bodnarik also wrote that requests for smaller spaces and any event large enough to require staffing from the College, such as a capella performances or comedy shows, would not be considered until Jan. 18 “at the earliest.” 

This article was updated on Jan. 10 to include comment from Sandstrom and the contents of Bonarik’s campus-wide email.

College reports 12 new student cases and four faculty and staff cases

Jan. 7 | 3:20 p.m.

On Friday, the College reported that 12 students and four faculty and staff members tested positive for COVID, according to the COVID dashboard, which was updated at around 2:45 p.m. This brings the weekly total for students, faculty, and staff to 103, and 89 for students. The College received 1020 test results on Friday.

Editor’s note: Moving forward, the Record will be reporting positives based on the day when the results come are posted by the College, rather than our previous reporting, which was based on the day the tests were taken.

Athletics facilities usage to remain closed to most students, varsity sport spectators restricted until Jan. 10

Jan. 7 | 3:20 p.m.

The College will allow student spectators to attend several of this weekend’s varsity athletic competitions and will allow faculty and staff spectators starting Monday, Jan. 10, Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische wrote in a Jan. 6 email. Student spectators who meet certain COVID-19 criteria will be allowed as spectators starting this weekend. 

Reische added that the College’s athletic facilities will open to students for general use on Jan. 10, rather than on Jan. 7, as previously announced by Associate Director for Student Athlete Services Carolyn Miles. 

The College will allow students who are out of quarantine and have received two negative results from PCR tests to attend this weekend’s varsity ice hockey, swimming, and basketball competitions, Reische wrote. However, he added that students may not attend squash and wrestling matches because of the insufficient distance between competitors and spectators at these events. Students must also remain masked at these events and show their College-issued ID cards to gain entry.

To use the College’s athletic facilities on Jan. 10, students must have completed their quarantine period upon arrival and received two negative test results, Reische wrote in a follow-up email to the Record

Mask usage will be mandatory while using the athletic facilities. “There have been reported problems with a few folks who’ve ignored that rule and refused to mask up in the gym when asked,” Reische wrote. “So from now on anyone found unmasked will get a warning. If they don’t immediately mask up and stay masked, they’ll be instructed to leave the building.”

 

Seventeen students test positive for COVID on Tuesday

Jan. 6 | 2:08 p.m.

Seventeen students tested positive for COVID on Tuesday, according to the COVID dashboard, which was updated at around 1:25 p.m. today. 513 people were tested on Tuesday.

Thirty students and 10 faculty, staff members test positive for COVID on Monday

Jan. 5 | 2:00 p.m.

Thirty students and 10 faculty and staff members tested positive for COVID on Monday, according to the COVID dashboard, which was updated at around 11 a.m. This brings the weekly total positive results for students, faculty, and staff to 76. On Sunday, 826 people were tested and on Monday, 1491 people were tested.

The College will not publish COVID test results today, arrival policies change for students who tested positive before arriving to campus

Jan. 4 | 9:45 p.m.

As of 9:45 p.m. today, the College’s COVID-19 dashboard has not been updated to include test results from students who took COVID tests on Monday. In an email to the Record, Associate Director of Institutional Research James Cart ’05, who manages the dashboard, wrote that the College’s typical cycle of testing and reporting results on the dashboard happens over the course of three days. “If a group tests Monday, their results come back Tuesday, and their results are posted publicly on Wednesday,” he wrote. 

However, the College updated the dashboard ahead of schedule yesterday, because the test results came back sooner than expected. “Today’s delay in updating the dashboard is a combination of that decision to report a bit earlier than usual (outlined above) and a delay in getting results back,” he wrote. 

Some students who arrived on campus and tested on Monday were notified of their results later in the day on Tuesday than students who arrived and tested on Sunday and received their results on Monday.

For example, Coco Rhum ’24 arrived on campus at 4 p.m. on Sunday and received her negative results at 4:45 a.m. on Monday, while Quinn Casey ’25 arrived on campus at 3:45 p.m. on Monday and received his negative results at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

“While we are expecting over 1,000 results back by the end of today [Tuesday], as of 4:30 p.m. or so we only had 38 back,” Cart wrote. He noted that there were several positive results from Monday tests, but he did not share the exact number to protect student privacy before they are added to the dashboard. 

Test results from the Broad Institute are reported to the College in batches at various times throughout the day. Cart wrote that the parties who require knowledge of the positive cases, such as the student who received a positive test, Campus Safety Services (CSS), and the Dean’s Office, are informed immediately in order to coordinate the process of isolation. “Informing the public of case counts is an important part of that process, but it comes at the end and doesn’t carry the same urgency as other parts of the process,” Cart wrote. 

Cart said that he expects to receive the official results from Monday tests by Wednesday morning and will update the dashboard accordingly. Moving forward, the College will update the dashboard using a three-day cycle of testing on one day, notifying students of their results on the next day, and updating the dashboard on the day after that, according to Cart. “We’ll continue to update the dashboard once a day unless there are extenuating circumstances,” he wrote.

Yesterday, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom announced in an all-campus email that students who test positive on campus may leave isolation after five days if they receive a negative test result from a rapid antigen test. These students must mask around others for five additional days after their negative test result, according to Sandstrom’s email. If the student’s rapid antigen test is positive, they will stay in isolation housing and test again in 48 hours.

This announcement marks a shift from the College’s previous isolation policy, which stated that students could leave isolation after five days if the student was asymptomatic or if the student had resolving symptoms and went 24 hours without a fever. The new policy is also more stringent than guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which, at the time of publication, does not require a negative test for release from isolation.

Today, the College extended that policy change to students who have not yet arrived on campus in an email from Executive Assistant to the Dean of the College Sue Gaskell. The email instructed students who tested positive while off campus to take a rapid test on the fifth day following their initial result — if they are able to obtain one. According to Gaskell’s email, students may only return to campus if they receive a negative result on that test.  Students who do not receive a negative rapid test result, or cannot access a rapid test,  should plan to return to campus 11 days after their initial positive test result — provided they meet the criteria for release from isolation, Gaskell wrote. 

The College’s athletics spectator policy also changed in conjunction with other NESCAC institutions on Dec. 22, according to the league and the College’s websites. This change was first publicized to students by the College through a banner alert across the top of the athletics website yesterday, and today the banner links to a permanent webpage that includes the same updated set of guidelines. According to the College’s athletics website, NESCAC institutions will temporarily require that spectators at indoor NESCAC athletic events be restricted to individuals who are part of the host institution’s testing protocol.” The policy remains in effect through the end of January. The College’s athletic department did not respond to the Record’s request for comment regarding the date the policy was implemented in time for publication.

The College has also established the post-arrival testing schedule for Winter Study and the spring semester, which will take effect on Jan. 10. According to yesterday’s email from Director of Student Administrative Affairs, Strategy, and Planning Aaron Gordon, students whose last names begin with letters A through L will test every Monday and Wednesday, while students whose last names begin with letters M through Z will test on Tuesday and Thursday. 

This article was updated on Jan. 5 to reflect a follow-up email from Cart in which he clarified that the College received delayed results, but is unsure whether or not this delay can be attributed to the Broad Institute.

Thirty students test positive for COVID, isolation housing policies change amid students’ return to campus

Jan. 3, 2022 | 9:46 p.m. 

Thirty students tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the College’s total number of positive tests in the past seven days to 40, according to the COVID dashboard. This number includes test results from on-campus students, faculty, and staff. This rise in cases comes as students return to campus for Winter Study after many left for winter break and amid surging infections from the Omicron variant.

Students who left campus for winter break were expected to take a COVID test before returning on campus and were required to test upon arrival, according to multiple emails that Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent to the College community. “Now that students are returning to campus we are seeing a much larger number of positive cases than we have seen in the past,” Sandstrom wrote in an all-campus email on Jan. 3. “This is not unexpected, but we will continue to need to monitor the situation and adapt policies in response.” 

According to the COVID dashboard, the College received 826 results — 30 of which were positive — from Sunday’s tests, which brought the positivity rate to approximately 3 percent and 40 total positives. The COVID dashboard displays data on COVID tests in three ways: numbers from the past seven days for students, faculty, and staff, overall testing counts from throughout the year, and positive student test results. Until today, the testing counts and positive student test results were each undercounting positive results, while the data labeled past 7 days was accurate. The dashboard was updated this evening to be correct in all sections, Associate Director of Institutional Research James Cart ’05 wrote in an email to the Record.

In a Jan. 2 all-campus email, Associate Director for Student Athlete Services Carolyn Miles announced that the use of indoor athletic facilities is limited to in-season varsity athletes who have received at least two negative COVID tests on campus. These students may only use the facilities that they need to practice their sport and will be supervised by their coaches, Miles wrote in a follow up email to the Record. She noted that the College anticipates indoor facilities being open to all students on Jan. 7 — once most students have received two COVID tests on campus.

In an email to the Record, President Maud S. Mandel wrote that 1210 students planned to return on Jan. 2 and 3, as indicated by a Dec. 30 survey sent to students asking for their arrival times. Students who stayed on campus were required to test at least once between the end of the semester and Jan. 1, either on Dec. 27 or Dec. 29, according to a Dec. 13 email Sandstrom sent to students staying on campus for winter break.  

Several students who participate in varsity winter sports had returned to campus in late December and were initially tested with rapid tests. Students then took a PCR test to confirm their result, according to Mandel, and any positive results were included on the dashboard. The COVID dashboard documented eight positive student tests from Dec. 27, 28, and 29. 

Students that test positive after arriving on campus will move into isolation housing at Parsons House, Sewall House, Thompson House, the Williams Inn, or a few designated off-campus apartments, Mandel wrote in an email to the Record. 

In a Jan. 3 email, Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life Doug Schiazza wrote to students assigned to live in Thompson Hall during Winter Study that the dorm will now be used as isolation housing. “I ask that you begin packing up your room upon receipt of this message,” he wrote to current Thompson residents. “A team from Facilities will help students move to their new housing assignments,” he wrote.

According to Sandstrom’s Jan. 3 email, students who receive a positive test result will “likely” be placed in a double in isolation housing, sharing a room and bathroom with other students who have tested positive. Although the College previously provided those students with single rooms in isolation housing, this shift to doubles comes as the College expects more cases due to the rise of the contagious Omicron variant, Sandstrom wrote. The College is considering “a few plausible options while [it waits] to see how the initial wave of tests looks,” should isolation housing become full, Mandel wrote to the Record.

Students who are experiencing COVID symptoms at any point should not go to the testing site and instead call the Health Center, Sandstrom wrote in the Jan. 3 email, which also announced that students who test positive and are able to drive home are now “encouraged to talk to Health Center staff” about possibly isolating at home. 

Those in isolation at the College will receive a rapid test on the fifth day after their positive test. If that test is negative, students will be permitted to move back to their normal housing and attend classes, but they will be required to follow strict masking guidelines and to take their meals from the dining halls to go, according to Sandstrom’s email. If the rapid test on the fifth day returns a positive result, however, students will remain in isolation and test again 48 hours later. 

According to Sandstrom’s email, vaccinated close contacts — defined as students who spent “15 minutes or more (cumulatively within 24 hours) within six feet of a known positive, regardless of whether or not [they] were masked at the time” — should mask around others for ten days after exposure, but may remain in their rooms if they test negative.

Close contacts who are severely immunocompromised or have received a vaccination exemption will be moved into a quarantine room after exposure. If they test negative after five days of quarantine, they may return to their own room but must mask around others for five more days.

Tali Natter, Cameron Pugh, and Kitt Urdang contributed reporting.

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