College Announces Changes to Covid Protocols Amid Rising Cases

Over a series of emails throughout the past week, the college announced heightened Covid protocols following a sharp uptick in cases. Changes include more restrictive masking policies and the implementation of in-place isolation.

The college announced a new set of Covid protocols in a series of emails sent over the past week.

Effective May 9, community members are now required to wear KN95 masks in all indoor spaces excluding residence halls, Valentine Dining Hall, and private offices with a single occupant. An earlier email on May 4 announced that masks were now required within residence halls during all indoor events with more than 10 people. Additionally, a May 6 email outlined a set of new isolate-in-place guidelines for students who test positive but cannot isolate off campus, although these protocols have not yet been necessary.

The changes come amid a sustained increase in the number of Covid cases on campus. As of May 10, there are 61 student, 7 faculty, and 12 staff cases, while the positivity rate of tests from the last two weeks stands at 2.28 percent: the highest it has been since this January.

In their May 4 email announcing new protocols, Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students Liz Agosto and Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Health Readiness Group Kate Salop stated that the upcoming end of the school year means that the recent increase in case numbers poses a particular challenge. “Students now contracting COVID-19 may be negatively affected in their ability to take their finals, to leave campus as planned at the end of the semester, and potentially, for seniors, to participate fully in Commencement activities, including in the ceremony itself,” they wrote.

The college has also faced difficulties finding adequate isolation space. The contracts enabling the college to house isolating students in the Inn on Boltwood, the Econo Lodge, and Howard Johnson all expired in April, leaving the Rodeway Inn as Amherst’s only off-campus isolation site. Although the college has been able to reduce pressure on isolation space by offering isolation housing at Hampshire College, the new isolate-in-place model will allow students who test positive to remain on campus in case a the number of positive cases exceeds available isolation space.

According to the May 6 email, students isolating in place must remain within their rooms at all times except when picking up meals or using the restroom. The email also states that all other students living in residence halls with isolating students will be notified of the situation. In such instances, one restroom in the residence hall will be designated for the exclusive use of positive students. Additionally, all students isolating in place will be moved into off-campus housing at the Rodeway Inn or Hampshire College as soon as space becomes available.

Salop said that there has not yet been a need to implement the isolate-in-place model. So far, accommodations in the Rodeway Inn or at Hampshire College have been available for all students who have tested positive. Salop also told The Student, “An isolation in place model is under consideration for the fall, but no decisions have been made yet.”

Amherst is far from the only institution to implement an isolate-in-place model. Within the Five College Consortium, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke have all introduced their own policies for students required to isolate in place.

Although members of the college community are still required to test only once a week, the email sent on May 4 calls for anyone experiencing potential Covid symptoms to get tested immediately. To help facilitate easy access to testing, the same email announced that “the Testing Center will expand its hours to include Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. until 12 Noon.”

According to Agosto and Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein, the updated masking policy will remain in place until the end of the semester.