Other Colleges Face Outbreaks, Stricter COVID Rules – The Williams Record



Amherst’s COVID regulations are among the strictest in NESCAC. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

In other ivory towers is the Registration look at colleges and universities outside the purple bubble.

As colleges nationwide reopen for the fall semester, some peer institutions have put in place significantly stricter public health restrictions than the college’s COVID-19 rules. Others have had to change their policies in response to the surge in COVID cases among students.

Amherst

At Amherst, students are required to wear a KN95 mask or double mask indoors. Amherst’s guidelines for testing, identifying and contacting people outside the campus community are also found to be more stringent than those on other NESCAC campuses. Amherst students are required to participate in surveillance tests – tests for those without COVID symptoms – twice a week, while Williams only requires weekly surveillance tests for those vaccinated.

Amherst students are required to wear lanyards displaying their university ID at all times while on campus. Students must stay in the County of Hampshire and cannot eat indoors in restaurants or bars; before September 11, they were to stay in the town of Amherst. Spectators are allowed at sporting events but are also required to wear masks.

Amherst’s strict regulations have led to backlash from students. More than 400 students have signed a letter to President Biddy Martin opposing guidelines banning indoor meals in dining halls, restaurants and bars and requiring exterior masking until September 13.

“These guidelines are significantly more restricted than our counterpart institutions,” the letter said. “We are asking for an explanation of what makes Amherst’s environment so different from colleges of similar size and location.”

On August 29, following the letter from the students, Martin issued a statement relaxing the outdoor mask mandate to only require students to wear an outdoor mask at all times.

Amherst directors have held firm to further restrictions. “The increases in infections and hospitalizations in Massachusetts continue, but they appear to be slowing,” Martin wrote. “Now it’s not Again time to relax the main restrictions.

Although Amherst’s student body is very similar to that of Williams, the local public health context differs. According to the 2020 census, Amherst, Massachusetts has 40,258 residents and is also home to UMass’ flagship campus, while Williamstown has 7,513 residents. Amherst is located in the county of Hampshire, which has a 2% positivity rate in the last 14 days and a 59% vaccination rate, while the county of Berkshire has a 1% positivity rate and a vaccination rate of 63%, according to The New York Times.

College of Connecticut

In announcing his most recent set of public health guidelines, Amherst cited a COVID outbreak at Connecticut College as cause for caution. In the week of September 6 to 12 alone, 169 Connecticut College students tested positive on this week’s 3,920 tests, for a 4.34% positivity rate, according to its Covid-19 dashboard. Due to this high number of cases, Connecticut College’s alert level was raised to Level 3, “orange,” in which parts of the college went into “precautionary quarantine” to limit movement on campus and minimize in-person contact.

The Dean of Students at Connecticut College, Victor Arcelus, announced the seven- to ten-day “precautionary quarantine” on September 7. All classes have moved to a virtual format during the quarantine period, after a day of classes canceled to give teachers a chance to adjust to online teaching. During this campus quarantine, students were required to wear masks inside and outside and were only allowed to be on their floor of their respective residence. Food services were take-out only and many public spaces on campus were closed.

Arcelus said a lack of adherence to masking protocols was behind the positive cases. “Students who contracted the virus had socialized in cars, in guest rooms or apartments, at parties or in bars without wearing masks,” he wrote. As of September 9, 97.5% of the student population is vaccinated.

Connecticut College’s positive case rate has since declined to 0.57%, with 20 positive cases as of September 19. The alert level has also been reduced to 2, “yellow,” which still signifies a deviation from standard operations, although the number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19 is still manageable and exposures are limited to a small number of people. Most activities like travel, gatherings and meals are still limited.


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