College Moves to “Covid-19 Level Two: Heightened Awareness” Following Case Surge in Amherst Area

On Oct. 9, Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Kevin Weinman announced that the college would move from to Covid-19 Level Two: “Heightened Awareness” on the Campus Operating Status scale. On Oct. 8, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) designated the Town of Amherst as “higher risk” in its weekly Covid-19 Health Report. The college had been operating on Level One for the entirety of the semester until this moment. 

The change comes amid increasing Covid-19 cases in Massachusetts and a recent case surge at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass), which has recorded 138 cumulative cases on Oct. 11. On Oct. 9, the college also recorded its fifth total Covid-19 case, when a staff member tested positive, Chief of Police John Carter wrote in a community wide email. 

The college has created five distinct campus operating protocols based on the number of local cases. Level One: “Normal Covid-19 Operations” is marked by limited numbers of on-campus cases with controlled transmission. Moving to Level Two: Heightened Awareness suggests that there may be potential for increased exposure to the virus. During Level Two, there may be temporary restrictions on all gatherings, including those with less than 10 individuals, that are not academic, the Campus Operating Status webpage says. However, this restriction has not yet been enacted under the current Level Two status. The college would move to Level Three: Modified Operations, Localized Restricted Movement, if students in a particular residence hall test positive and Level Four: Temporarily Restricted Operations, Campus-wide Restricted Movement if there is evidence of significant community spread. A shift to Level Five: Severely Restricted Operations and Campus Closure could mean a closure of the campus and move to fully remote classes and activities. 

The Town of Amherst saw 95 new Covid cases in the past two weeks, according to the MDPH. “Level 2 status primarily calls for increased vigilance on behalf of our community members,” Weinman wrote in his email. In a follow-up email to on-campus students, Dean of Students Liz Agosot wrote that “Wearing masks correctly continues to be the greatest defense against transmission of COVID.  Please wear your mask over your nose and under your chin.”

“It is important that you remain on campus, not invite off-campus guests onto campus, and not order delivery to campus outside of the allocated Delivery Express hours,” Agosto wrote.  “Please also wear your lanyards displayed so that we can identify individuals who should be on campus and intervene with those who should not be on campus and are not engaged in our testing protocols.”

On Oct. 7, The Student reported that on-campus students were growing increasingly comfortable breaking rules related to mask usage and physical distancing. After registering over 30,500 tests since the beginning of the pandemic, the college has recorded five total Covid cases three students and two staff members. Students receive Covid tests three times per week.