College Loosens Some Covid-19 Protocols but Urges Vigilance

On Sept. 11, the administration announced updated Covid protocols, including a limited return of indoor dining and an expansion of travel boundaries. While the changes were less far-reaching than some would have hoped, students generally found the update to be what they expected.

In an email sent on Sept. 11, Dean of Students Liz Agosto relayed to students the updated Covid protocols promised in the Aug. 24 announcement. Effective Sept. 13, students experienced three noteworthy changes: indoor dining resumed at a 30 percent capacity, permitted bounds of travel expanded to all of Hampshire County and social events are now allowed to be organized and officially registered with the Office of Student Activities.

Citing outbreaks at other colleges and universities — such as UMass Amherst and Connecticut College — the administration has decided to maintain biweekly testing and indoor mask requirements. Non-Amherst community members are still not permitted in campus buildings and there is a continued 50 percent capacity limit for all “non-class” activities.

“We are currently tracking developments at several colleges and universities, including UMass, which reported over 130 positive student cases, mostly among students who live off-campus. Many have found, through contact tracing, that their positive cases came largely from students at indoor parties and events at local bars and restaurants or on campus where attendees did not wear masks,” Agosto said.

In the message, Agosto stated that the college is not restricting travel over fall break, but strongly encourages students to remain on campus. Students who choose to travel will be subject to a “re-entry testing” procedure and therefore must schedule their Covid test in advance of their first class.

Acknowledging the current reality of the college — that it received three positive student cases from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12 but reports no massive outbreaks — Agosto wrote, “We now have positive cases. Based on what we see virtually everywhere, we anticipate more during the semester. The trajectory of the rest of the semester depends on having all of us make choices that reduce risk and allow us to continue to show up and support in-person education and residential experiences.”

In her closing remarks, Agosto implored students to “keep our community as safe as possible” so that the college can “continue to offer … in person classroom and community experiences.”

Students reported that the update did not make any significant changes to the Covid restrictions, but was largely along the lines of what they expected. Many expressed being the most pleased by Val reopening, even at limited capacity. “I'm glad Val is reopening,” said Caden Stockwell ’25. “Right now the weather is very nice, which is good, but all the wasps and bugs make it a lot harder to eat, [so] I'm glad there's going to be some level of ability to eat inside.”

Several students noted that the expansion of the travel boundary to Hampshire County did not have much of an effect in practice, as the college had never been able to enforce that restriction anyway. “I already know people who are going further than Hampshire County, so I really don't think that, on the student population as a whole, [easing travel restrictions] has had that much effect,” said a student who requested to remain anonymous, who will be referred to as Student A. “People are still traveling if they want to travel, but doing it in pretty safe ways.”

Matthew McShane ’22 found it frustrating that the email was not transparent about how the Covid situation on campus corresponds with the level of restrictions that are implemented. “It's still pretty unclear what the path forward looks like, like in a way it seems a little arbitrary,” he said. “I don't really know where they came up with ideas of, you know, the case numbers mean that here's what we're going to do — it's not entirely clear where the rationale comes from.”

McShane added that it would help if the administration communicated the conditions under which students could expect restrictions to loosen up moving forward. “If there’s some sort of idea of a roadmap forward — like, what does Covid have to look like for Val to be open at 75 percent capacity or something like that — I think that’s going to incentivize people to take the rules as seriously as possible.”

Student A felt that the continuing strictness of the restrictions are not in line with less Covid-safe events that the college has allowed. “In one moment, everyone has to double-mask when inside or wear KN95’s, but then in other times, the administration is hosting huge events on Val quad, where no one’s masked,” they said. “I’m happy that [these events] are happening — I just wish the administration was on the whole more consistent with the message that they’re sending to the student population, because what they’re lax and what they’re strict about sometimes feels contradictory and confusing.”

Overall, though, students were glad that the college is taking precautions to safeguard the possibility of having an in-person semester. “My main concern is that I just really want Covid cases to stay at a low level so that we can continue being on campus and having classes in person,” said Stockwell. “So I'm actually pretty happy with the protocols they've put in place.”

“I think almost everyone wants to be back at the college,” added McShane. “With the current restrictions, I think it's perfectly safe to be on campus.