WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College students will be required to provide proof of a recent negative test for COVID-19 before they can return and be tested by the college for the start of the spring semester.
On Friday, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom issued a campuswide email that begins to lay out the restrictions the college will have in place as it begins its second academic term during the pandemic.
The bottom line: students will face tighter restrictions due to the nature of the winter season, the current spread of the novel coronavirus nationwide and the increase in the number of students planning to be on campus.
"This message is intentionally sobering," Sandstrom wrote. "Because fall term went well, we have the sense that many students are now thinking spring will be similar or even easier. The very high number of students planning to study on campus in spring seems to support this.
"We absolutely do want everyone to have a good term, and are doing everything in our power to make it happen. But that also includes an obligation to give you a realistic sense of the challenges, so that you have enough information to decide for yourself if an on-campus spring is the right option for you."
According to her email, between 300 and 350 more students have decided that a return to the North Berkshire campus is the right choice for them.
That alone creates logistical problems, starting with dorm room assignments.
Sandstrom informed returning students who were not on campus in the fall that they will have less of a choice where they will be living this spring.
"[We] will have to weave your room assignments around students who are already assigned rooms from last fall," she wrote. "You may even be assigned to a pod of people whom you do not (yet) know well."
And once on campus, the students can expect fewer opportunities to socialize.
Sandstrom noted that the first couple of months of the "spring" semester actually take place in winter, and there will be fewer chances for outdoor gathering than students enjoyed in August, September and October.
And indoor gatherings will have an added restriction. Unlike the fall, students living on campus will not be able to visit off-campus houses, including those on Spring Street or other streets that were considered part of "campus" for quarantine purposes in the fall.
As they did in the fall, students will be required to receive two negative COVID-19 tests on campus (in addition to the pre-arrival test) before they are released from isolation in a dorm room, a process that takes about five days.
Students again will be able to sign up for appointment times for the initial COVID-19 test during the Feb. 10-14 arrival period, and if they miss their appointment, they will need to find a hotel room while waiting for another appointment slot.
Even as the college prepares its students for their return next month, it is reserving the option of delaying that return if COVID-19 case counts and local hospital capacity warrant.
Sandstrom said she and Williams President Maud Mandel will announce by the end of January whether the spring semester will start will all remote classes.
In the meantime, Sandstrom mentioned twice in Friday's 2,000-word email that it is not too late for the students who already chose to study on campus to switch back to remote learning.
"If, after considering carefully, you want to switch to remote study or a personal leave, please complete this enrollment status form as soon as possible," the email concludes. "And you can always contact the deans if you need help with specific questions.
"Thank you in advance for approaching this decision with care. I wish you happiness and health over the next several weeks."
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