College Announces Least Restrictive Covid Protocols Yet for Fall Semester

On Aug. 5, the college released its Covid-19 protocols for the fall semester. The protocols outlined a number of significant changes from previous semesters, including the end of surveillance testing and the adoption of an isolation-in-place policy.

College Announces Least Restrictive Covid Protocols Yet for Fall Semester
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Hamilton ‘24.

In an email sent to the college community on Aug. 5, Chief Student Affairs Officer and Dean of Students Liz Agosto, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein, and Chief Human Resources Officer Kate Harrington unveiled the college’s Covid-19 protocols for the fall semester, which seek to balance a continued emphasis on community’s health with the freedom of pre-Covid campus life.

Some of the most prominent changes to this year’s protocols include the end of weekly surveillance testing, a timeline for loosened masking guidelines, and the adoption of an isolate-in-place policy.

Although Covid cases remain high both nationally and globally — as of Sept. 4, the New York Times reported a daily average of 87,301 new cases — Agosto, Epstein, and Harrington write that the efficiency of Covid vaccines at preventing severe cases, along with community members’ ability to individually choose to follow more stringent protocols, justifies the introduction of looser rules.

Given the vaccine’s importance in determining campus protocol, all members of the community are still required to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19 with all doses of the primary series and one booster shot. The email further states that this requirement will be updated as new vaccines become available.

For the moment, masks remain required in all indoor locations other than residence halls and private offices. However, Agosto explained that “we fully anticipate moving to a more relaxed masking protocol once we are past the first few weeks of the semester.” An email detailing the updated masking policy will be sent to community members on Sept. 12.

Although all community members are asked to test when symptomatic, weekly surveillance testing will no longer be required. Agosto explained that 87 percent of all positive cases in recent months have been symptomatic, meaning that the administration expects that this policy will still identify the vast majority of cases on campus. Tests will remain available at the testing center throughout the year for anyone in the community who wishes to test more frequently.

This semester will also see the college move fully to an isolate-in-place policy for the first time. This means that students who test positive for Covid will no longer be provided a separate isolation space and will be required to isolate in their rooms.

In an email sent to the student body on Aug. 12, Senior Associate Dean of Students Dean Gendron and Director of Student Health Services Emily Jones, M. D. advised roommates to have conversations with each other ahead of time about “whether one of the roommates should plan to stay with friends or relatives off campus” if the other tests positive.

An additional email sent to students on Aug. 18 by Jones and Covid-19 Project Manager Jerry Roeder clarified that exceptions will be made for students with underlying conditions which place them at increased risk for severe manifestations of Covid. As long as these students have filled out forms alerting the college of their situation ahead of time, their roommates will be provided with separate isolation spaces if they test positive for Covid.

Students who test positive are required to remain in isolation for at least five days, after which they can return to normal campus life as soon as they test negative or after 11 days have passed since the first positive test.

For the first time since the college announced its first round of Covid protocols in March 2020, all spaces on campus will operate at 100 percent capacity. In addition, with the exception of Valentine Dining Hall and Wolff Fitness Center, all campus buildings will now be open to the public. After Sept. 12, members of the public will also be admitted to the dining hall and fitness center, and students will be allowed to have visitors from outside the campus community in residence halls.

Beyond addressing changes in the college’s Covid protocol, Agosto, Epstein, and Harrington also mentioned that the administration has been following developments related to the spread of monkeypox.

In separate follow-up emails sent to students and employees on Aug. 23, Agosto and Jones noted that “we have no reason to believe there are any cases in the College community or in the Town of Amherst,” but advised all students and employees to protect themselves and their communities by washing their hands frequently, refraining from sharing towels and clothing, and avoiding close contact with people who have rashes resembling monkeypox.

Though protocols are expected to be loosened further, Agosto and Epstein emphasized that the administration will continue to carefully monitor the public health situation and revise protocols as necessary following the Sept. 12 update.