WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College has closed its Children's Center until next Tuesday following a positive COVID-19 test for a member of its faculty.
A Sunday afternoon email from Director Carrie Gagne informed affected families that the college learned on Saturday that a single teacher at the preschool had tested positive, prompting a decision to shutter the facility for 10 days.
The letter said the decision was made with the consultation of college leadership and the local Board of Health, which noted the closure at its Monday morning meeting.
"In other scenarios we might have only closed one classroom," Gagne wrote. "However, the Pine Room has an exceptionally large number of siblings and family members moving through seven other classrooms. Although we limit mingling among students and do not have teachers moving between rooms, the center-wide risk was greater because of the Pine Room's unique situation than it might have been otherwise. That fact fueled our decision to reluctantly close the entire school."
Gagne said all children who attend the facility and their families will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to school on Jan. 19.
"Children's centers like ours always have a higher risk of spread than the general population. When children are only bringing home common colds, that risk is manageable," Gagne wrote. "During a pandemic, however, we need to take stronger measures to protect all of our children, staff, and families."
According to the college's website, the Children's Center is licensed to serve up to 90 children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. It runs a day program for children up to school age and an after-school program for children school age through 12.
"I know they recognize this is going be quite a hardship for people who have children at the center, but they felt with an abundance of caution that's what they have to do," Board of Health member Dr. Erwin Stuebner said in reporting the move to his colleagues.
Stuebner also told the board that the college is continuing to monitor COVID-19 conditions locally and nationwide with an eye toward allowing students to return to campus in February.
Williams' associate vice president for finance and administration told iBerkshires.com on Monday morning that the plans in development will include some version of the on-campus quarantine that students completed in August and September before the start of fall classes.
"We are exploring a number of options for the spring return of students," Matt Sheehy said. We have not settled on anything specifically and shared with the Board of Health that we are possibly exploring options for having students pre-test prior to their arrival. This is an ongoing discussion."
Stuebner noted that there have been no positive tests among the small cohort of students remaining on campus between the fall and winter terms. The college has completed 50,698 tests since its asymptomatic testing program began on Aug. 17; to date, there have been 19 positive tests (seven students, 12 staff) for a positivity rate of .04 percent.
The board on Monday also discussed the progress of the state's rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy told the board that he believes there likely will be an 80 percent acceptance rate among first-responders, who were eligible to receive vaccinations under the state's program starting Monday.
Dr. Devan Bartels, a physician at Berkshire Medical Center, reported that about three-quarters of eligible caregivers at BMC received the vaccine.
"Anecdotally, some people were quick to sign up after seeing it's tolerated by their peers," Bartels said.
In non-COVID matters, Kennedy reported to the board that, as expected
, he last week posted a closure notice at the Berkshire Hills Country Inn on Cold Spring Road (Route 7) due to the business' inability to resolve issues with its water supply.
Kennedy said he understands the owner of the hotel is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection but he will not be able to remove the closure order until he hears from DEP.
"DEP said they received a plan, but it was under review," Kennedy said. "I let DEP know and the owner know it would remain closed until I get word from DEP that their water plan is approved."