New Faculty Welcome Dinner Becomes Super-spreader Event

An Aug. 23 faculty dinner hosting about 60 people at the Inn at Boltwood led to about 25 faculty and staff — most of whom were faculty members — testing positive for Covid following the event. Several professors had to teach remotely or cancel class the first week due to contracting Covid.

A faculty dinner held on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at the Inn at Boltwood became a super-spreader event, with about 25 faculty and staff — most of whom were faculty members — testing positive for Covid in the days following the event.

The dinner, which hosted about 60 people, was held to welcome new faculty joining the college this year, with chairs of departments with new faculty members invited as well. Attendees were asked to complete an antigen test prior to the event.

“It’s really unfortunate for many reasons, not least because it was a dinner welcoming our newest faculty,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein at the faculty meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 31. “People seem to have gotten really quite sick after this dinner. These were not cases of asymptomatic Covid — some people have gotten really, unfortunately, sick.”

“It’s sort of a miserable reminder about how prevalent the pandemic remains,” she added. “We all need to remain vigilant and to do what that entails — mask when appropriate, test as soon as Covid-like symptoms appear, and so on. Unfortunately, it really seems that it will take some time for all of us to be free of Covid fret.”

Per the Covid protocols currently in place, faculty who test positive for Covid must isolate at home for a minimum of five days, and may return to work on campus as soon as they test negative on day six or later. On day 11, they can return to work on campus without taking another test.

With over 20 faculty Covid cases still active on the first day of classes, Sept. 1, several faculty had to teach remotely or cancel class altogether. Faculty were given discretion on whether to teach remotely or cancel class, said Epstein, as some were not well enough to hold class, even on Zoom.

Lawrence Douglas, the James J. Grosfeld professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought and the chair of law, jurisprudence and social thought (LJST), was one of the faculty members who tested positive after the event.

Although he had contracted a “very mild case” of Covid in the spring, he noted that the symptoms were worse this time, causing difficulties in preparing for the start of the semester.

“It’s hard to prep with a headache and fatigue,” Douglas said. “And obviously I could not get to my office to get my course materials and the like.”

“With regrets, I had to cancel the first meeting of my FYSE [first-year seminar] and my LJST course,” he added.

The incident has caused some concern among faculty members regarding the adequacy of the college’s Covid protocols for the fall. At the faculty meeting last Wednesday, several faculty members expressed their thoughts on the lowered restrictions, particularly the discontinuation of regular surveillance testing.

Epstein noted that the senior staff will be taking all the feedback into account as they decide on the more long-term Covid policy for the semester.

“I want to be clear that this is something that we are continuing to watch very carefully, and we are prepared to continue to change the policy,” added President Michael Elliott.