August 24, 2021

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,

I am writing to inform you of some changes in the COVID-19 rules and protocols announced eight days ago. Based on more recent information about the course of the delta variant and the experiences on some campuses over the past couple of months, we have decided to take a phased approach to the start of the Fall semester. 

We have long known that vaccinations would be absolutely essential, but we now also know that they are not sufficient to avoid the widespread infection that the delta variant can cause. Masks, physical distancing, and limits on indoor gatherings are also necessary. The vaccines continue to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization, but we also need to bear in mind the possible exceptions and to protect against the kind of spread that would have lots of students, staff, or faculty in isolation for up to 10 days at a time. Massachusetts currently requires a 10-day isolation, even for vaccinated individuals who clear the virus more quickly than those who have not been vaccinated. Should that change at the state level, we will adapt. We have all experienced too much isolation to add a great deal more for significant numbers of people who are here to educate and be educated in community with one another. 

There is no question that we have to learn to live with COVID-19 without all the restrictions we have used in the past, but we must also realize that the delta variant has been a game-changer in our expectations and our hopes that vaccination would be enough for a Fall reopening without restrictions. We will start with somewhat stricter protocols for the next two and half weeks than I had announced eight days ago and open up as we go. I know this is disappointing, and I wish it weren’t so.

Please take the time to read through the changes and reminders below.

Staff Scheduling/Remote Work Pilot

We will temporarily delay the return of non-essential, non-student-facing staff to campus until September 13. This will limit density so we can welcome students and focus on reopening all the buildings and spaces that have been largely closed for 18 months. 

  • If you play a direct role in supporting students or in supporting on-campus teaching and learning, please continue coming to campus as planned so we can provide services, programs, and events, etc. 

  • All other staff who have been working from home should continue to work from home until September 13 unless contacted by your supervisor to the contrary.

  • A supervisory forum will be held this Thursday to discuss the change in plans with supervisors; please feel free to ask any questions you have of your supervisors after that meeting.

  • The launch of the Remote Work Pilot (originally slated for September 1) will be delayed in favor of this temporary de-densification of campus. The agreements in the hybrid work form that many staff members completed will take effect on September 13.

  • Staff members who continue to work remotely will not be tested during this period. However, before your first day working on campus you will need to complete either a PCR test within 72 hours of your return or both an antigen and PCR test on the day of your return to campus. A negative antigen test that day will clear you to enter campus buildings.

Masking

As you know, masks are mandatory indoors and also outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Studies have demonstrated decisively that not all masks protect equally well. We want to clarify which types of masks are acceptable on campus and which are not, and where masks are required.

  • KN95 masks afford a higher level of filtration and protection than the standard-issue, pleated filter masks. The College is in the process of procuring a supply of KN95’s and, upon receipt, will provide them to students, faculty, and staff. Until then, individuals are encouraged to use the standard-issue, pleated filter masks as described below. Faculty and staff who determine with their supervisor, and/or with input from Director of Health and Safety Rick Mears, that their role involves direct interaction with individuals requiring isolation (e.g., health services) will be provided with National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-rated N95 masks.  

  • Disposable, pleated filter face masks are acceptable but must be doubled (two masks on top of one another) in classrooms and other academic spaces operating at 100% capacity at all times. The College will also provide these masks to students, faculty, and staff.

  • Cloth masks may be worn when doubled with a disposable, pleated filter face mask. Any other kind of mask is not acceptable, including gaiters, homemade masks, etc. 

  • Masks must be worn outdoors if a physical distance of six feet cannot be maintained.

  • Masks must be worn indoors at all times, including in residence hall common areas, until at least September 13. (The only exceptions are when in one’s own residence hall room with the doors closed and when alone in a private office.)

Dining Services

  • There will be no in-person dining inside Valentine Dining Hall through September 13. (This is a change from the previously announced 50% reduction in occupancy.) We will evaluate a return to in-person dining in Val after September 13.

  • The traditional array of food options will be available. Students will be able to choose breakfast, lunch, and dinner options and carry them out in reusable containers. There will be three serving locations inside Val for the to-go process: Valentine, Lewis-Sebring, and Russ Wing, all staffed by the Dining Services team. 

  • There will be a grab-and-go location at Schwemm’s, open for lunch.

  • We strongly encourage students to eat in the ample outdoor tents, weather permitting, including in the additional tents that have been specially designated for dining, and to maintain a physical distance of six feet when unmasked in order to eat. 

  • Campus dining will not be available to faculty and staff for the first few weeks of the semester. As with students, faculty and staff are encouraged to eat outside when possible and to maintain a physical distance of six feet when eating with others. Any changes to this policy will be announced in the Daily Mammoth and the Planning Updates.

Student Off-Campus Travel

  • We will limit students’ off-campus travel through September 13. Students may visit the town of Amherst, masked when indoors, in order to conduct business (opening bank accounts, picking up prescriptions, etc.) during regular business hours, but may not go to restaurants or bars. 

  • Other off-campus travel, with the exception of travel to Five College courses, must be approved by the Office of Student Affairs. Travel to the other four campuses for class only is permitted.

  • We continue to assess protocols for off-campus travel to athletic competitions.

  • All Amherst College students must be masked when indoors at any off-campus location and when using public transportation.

  • It is possible that we will need to place restrictions on student travel during fall break, October 11-12. We will keep a close eye on the public health situation regionally and nationally and give you as much notice as possible if off-campus travel is not permitted that weekend.

  • It is too early to say whether travel to or from campus during other breaks or events (such as Family Weekend, Homecoming, and Thanksgiving) will be impacted. We simply do not know what the public health situation will be as those occasions near, but we will provide information as soon as possible.

Capacity Limits, Events, and Building Access

  • Amherst College IDs must be worn at all times while on campus. Lanyards are available at the Testing Center.

  • We will impose a 50% capacity limit through September 13 on all non-academic spaces and academic spaces that are being used for other purposes (i.e., a classroom being used for a student organization meeting). 

  • All student organization and social events should be planned with Student Affairs staff and vetted for appropriate physical distancing and personal protective equipment standards. No events with alcohol will be permitted at the beginning of the semester.

  • Buildings are accessible only to members of our community (and students in the Five College exchange program) who are part of our testing program. The exterior doors to general academic and administrative buildings will be accessible by your AC OneCard between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

  • Please limit in-person meetings when possible and meet outside, weather permitting.

  • Masks must be worn outdoors if a physical distance of six feet cannot be maintained.

  • Faculty and staff will not be able to use the Fitness Center for the first few weeks of the semester.

  • Spectators will be allowed at outdoor sporting events, but all spectators must be masked, and there will not be any pre-or post-game gatherings, tailgating, tents, or group eating and drinking.

If you have questions, you may find answers in the FAQ on the College’s website, or students may contact the Office of Student Affairs at 413-542-2337or studentaffairs@amherst.edu, and staff and faculty may contact the Office of Human Resources at 413-542-2372 or hr@amherst.edu

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Biddy