Wellesley prohibits off campus guests; new restrictions enforced
A new positive COVID-19 case was reported on campus Sunday, Oct. 25, escalating fears that cooling temperatures and the week-long break between Terms 1 and 2 would bring the virus to campus. In light of this and rising case numbers across Massachusetts, Wellesley College President Paula Johnson announced at the Health and Safety Update for Students and Families Webinar on Oct. 29 that new regulations, including restrictions to off-campus travel and barring guests from campus, would be implemented in the following week.
“We at Wellesley really need to change some of our policies and focus to maintain a level of safety for those of us[,] students as well as faculty and staff[,] who will be on campus moving forward,” President Johnson said in the webinar. “Students who violate these rules will be asked to leave campus and continue their classes remotely for the remainder of the term.”
President Johnson cited data from the College’s weekly health and safety survey indicating that more and more members of the community have reported that others are not following health and safety measures since arriving on campus. According to the data, on Aug. 30, 74 percent of respondents had overall confidence that health and safety measures were being observed consistently by on-campus students. By Oct. 25, that number had dropped to 59 percent.
The presentation garnered 566 student questions, few of which were answered. Many students asked about whether, in lieu of stricter regulations, the school would be offering greater mental health support. While members of administration emphasized students’ need to prioritize their mental health, they did not mention any changes to campus mental health policies and instead directed students to the Stone Center. Dean Horton also addressed the need for campus orgs to plan more events and assured students that the school was working on organizing more on-campus activities as well.
“A number of sources have told us that we really are at risk of putting the campus in danger,” President Johnson said. “I have full confidence that we can support each other and get each other to the end of the semester.”
While the new off-campus travel restrictions bar any student travel beyond the Town of Wellesley, commonly known as the Ville, Dean of Students Sheilah Horton clarified that these new restrictions did not include grocery shopping for essential items or doctor’s appointments. The College also announced that off-campus guests would no longer be permitted to come on campus in any capacity, a reversal to the prior policy of permitting guests to socialize with students outdoors.
“We are not trying to ruin your fun. We’re not trying to stop you from having close relations,” Dean Horton said. “We’re trying to balance the social needs and safety needs.”
According to the email sent out by President Johnson on Oct. 26, a total of five students were quarantined, including a student who tested positive. 50+ community members identified as close secondary contacts of the quarantined individuals under the newly-updated CDC definition — those who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of a positive individual in a period of 24 hours — were placed under “soft” quarantine, where they are not be permitted to attend in-person classes, visit the library or eat in a dining hall until they had tested negative for COVID-19 three times in the course of a week. Employees who were identified as secondary contacts were asked to work remotely as well.
Recent COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts are nearly double what they were during Term 1. State COVID-19 cases surpassed 1,200 on both Oct. 26 and Oct. 27, the highest numbers of daily positive cases since May. These numbers correspond with a worrying global trend; the weekend of Oct. 22-23 marked a record 85,000 daily cases in the United States and 444,000 worldwide. As of Oct. 29, there are 9 million reported cases in the United States, making up roughly one-fifth of all global cases.
President Johnson emphasized in her email that although there were only three cases associated with the College, it was still important for students to remain vigilant and observe preventative measures. The new positive case “allowed [the College] to identify several important areas of our health and safety protocols that need to be changed, clarified, and more actively enforced,” Johnson wrote.
In the meantime, the College has delayed all varsity athletics practices until Nov. 2. Wellesley has also announced that students currently on campus who are employed in the Ville will be able to continue working until the end of the semester.