In an email to the community yesterday, COVID-19 Resource Coordinator Mike Ranen announced that the College would be moving back to Green status this morning.
As was the case with the transition to Yellow status three weeks ago, there will be some alterations to the guidelines posted before the start of the semester. The indoor mask mandate will stay in place, with the only change being that masks are not required in Smith Union “when the density is low-to-moderate and when you are able to maintain an adequate distance (at least six feet) from others,” according to Ranen’s email. Masks will still be required in classrooms, libraries and other common spaces on campus (although students may now remove their masks anywhere in their residence hall), and the twice-a-week testing schedule implemented three weeks ago will continue.
“We’re taking a step of easing some masking restrictions in Smith Union as a test case,” Ranen said. “We’re easing into it, and we’re going to see if students, faculty and staff comply with it. We know wearing a mask is the best protection against COVID[-19], but it’s hard for people to do [it] at all times … we’re trying to take a reasonable approach.”
Ranen pointed out that nearly every one of the College’s peer institutions has also enacted an indoor mask mandate. Some colleges have seen much more serious outbreaks on campus, such as a 169-case burst at Connecticut College that essentially forced their campus into lockdown and sent all classes remote for a week.
Ranen said that there were no specific cutoffs to determine when status levels have changed or will change in the future.
“We’ve never had a formula for the status levels. We look at local conditions, national conditions and conditions on campus as we decide,” Ranen said. “Having that early outbreak and being able to stop that outbreak showed us that if we do add more restrictions, [they work] … we imagine that unlike last spring, where we went from Orange to Yellow then stayed at Yellow the whole time, we may shift [again].”
Ranen said that the mask mandate in classroom spaces will “realistically not be lifted” at any point this semester, given the rate of infection at both the local and national levels.
“It’s still the same as last year—we’re able to eat with pods of friends indoors, but this year it’s just expanded to a larger size,” Nhi Nguyen ’23 said. “I do not feel a big change compared to last year … I have three classes in a row, and being in a mask for four and a half hours isn’t the most comfortable.”
Currently, the College plans to allow students to leave campus for fall and Thanksgiving break. Ranen said it is likely that the College will move to Yellow status immediately after these breaks in order to isolate cases quickly, given that many students will be traveling.
Ranen identified the College’s contact tracing program and student cooperation as two key factors in stopping the most recent outbreak.
“What we found is that when we identified close contacts, once they knew they were exposed … they really clamped down, so we were able to stop that secondary and tertiary spread very fast because of that contact tracing,” Ranen said. “We weren’t surprised [by the presence of cases on campus], but we were impressed how the close contacts responded to try to stop their spread.”
Above all, Ranen urged caution.
“Remain careful,” Ranen said. “We would like to be in [Green] for longer, and we would like to ease even more restrictions. Faculty, staff and students: we need to tread carefully into this to make sure that the easing of restrictions can stay.”
Editor’s note 09/24/2021 at 11:54 a.m.: A previous version of this article failed to include the fact that under the new guidelines, students may now be maskless throughout their entire residence hall. The article has been updated accordingly.