On Mar. 6, district officials from the town of Wellesley announced early dismissals at Upham Elementary School and Wellesley Middle School after a parent of children who attend both schools tested presumptively positive for COVID-19. The parent had attended the Biogen conference in Boston on Feb. 27 that has been linked to at least 70 other cases in the eastern United States, including two additional presumptive cases in Wellesley on Mar. 9.
The schools were sanitized over the weekend and reopened on Monday. According to a notice sent out by Wellesley Health Department on Mar. 9, “Town and School officials are currently not recommending canceling or postponing meetings or events planned at schools or municipal buildings due to the current Coronavirus outbreak … with the understanding that this decision may change suddenly if we become aware of new information.”
The Wellesley College administration issued an email on Mar. 8 assuring the community that there were no confirmed cases among staff, faculty and students affiliated with the College. According to a press release by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (Mass. DPH) on Sunday, the risk of COVID-19 to the general public in Massachusetts remains low. In spite of this, Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts on Mar. 10, citing the need to give the administration “more flexibility to respond to this evolving outbreak.” There have been 92 cases in Massachusetts, with a total of 974 infections in the U.S.
In a follow-up email sent out by the Wellesley administration on Mar. 8, it was announced that new travel restrictions are in effect for all members of the community between Mar. 9 and May 6. All College-related international, out-of-state or air travel has been suspended. The Wellesley College Choir canceled their tour to Georgia and various sports teams were forced to cancel or postpone games. Additionally, the College strongly discouraged all personal international travel and urged caution against personal domestic travel. Students who travel out-of-state will be required to submit a Travel Registration Form.
Students who travel to countries with a CDC warning of Level 2 or 3 over Spring Break will risk a mandatory 14-day quarantine outside of campus, with the College unable to guarantee that students would make up missed classes if quarantined. At the Senate meeting on Mar. 9, Dean Sheilah Horton announced that the administration was reconsidering this policy due to backlash from students.
Phoebe Amory ’20 had booked her tickets for a Spring Break trip to Germany, where on Monday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 1,458. As of Mar. 9, two deaths have been reported within the country. While Germany has not been designated a Level 2 country yet, it is uncertain as to how things will continue to unfold over the next two weeks leading up to Spring Break.
Amory says that the College’s guidelines unnecessarily punish students who do choose to travel to at-risk locations and who have to quarantine.
“I think it’s unbelievable that the College won’t guarantee late work time. It won’t hurt them at all — students missing two weeks for other reasons like concussions or family emergencies can talk to their dean and take incompletes to make up their work,” Amory said. “Why can’t students who are forced into quarantine due to travel restrictions do the same?”
Yujin Lee ’23 expressed her frustration with the lack of support given to students, especially those who live abroad.
“[The College] should guarantee our right [to] education. That’s why we’re here. [The quarantine policy] will disproportionately affect Asian-American, Asian and international students,” Lee said. “They’re very vulnerable, and for the College to put all the burden on them is unfair … they didn’t mention what to do if we don’t have housing inside the United States … We don’t have infinite resources. I can’t just book a hotel in two weeks.”
While Lee acknowledged that the new policy was put into place to discourage students from traveling abroad, she noted that some students in Level 2 or 3 countries faced emergencies that required them to go home.
“The new policies should be inclusive of those students,” said Lee.
According to the email, all on-campus events involving members of the public are now limited to 100 attendees or less. The number does not apply to Wellesley-only events.
The College’s annual Spring Open Campus, an event that is traditionally held every April to welcome admitted students, will now be a virtual experience.
“Students will go to virtual events instead — we’re actually planning them right now,” said Lauren Reilly, Wellesley’s Admission Service Coordinator. “We are currently planning webinars that will be available to … admitted students.”
Tours and informational sessions will still be offered to prospective students, but will be capped at 50 people.
“We are no longer offering overnights, and we’re canceling lunch visits, as we don’t want to have visiting students in the dining hall unnecessarily,” said Reilly. “We’re still going forward with some of our visit events, but it’s on-going for a day-to-day process … we want to make the new class feel welcome, and we want to offer them as much as we can virtually.”
Some clubs and organizations have also chosen to temporarily suspend meetings. On Mar. 9, the Wellesley College Democrats cancelled their candidate-issue fair, an event that was anticipated to draw a large crowd. Additionally, the Taiwanese Cultural Organization (TCO) has limited their annual nightmarket, an event that traditionally draws over 500 attendees, to Wellesley students only.
Many events that were scheduled to be held in the Davis Museum have since been suspended or rescheduled. According to the Davis Museum website, all public access to the museum has been suspended through Mar. 31.
In the face of a potential epidemic, professors have discussed using Zoom or other video conference softwares to hold classes.
Thomas Cushman, Heffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Professor in the Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology, emailed his students on Mar. 4 that they would be holding class online, starting on Mar. 9.
“I am doing this because in the present situation where we are unclear about the course of COVID-19, the CDC has recommended that those who can [should] engage in social distancing,” said Cushman, who had recently been hospitalized after a bad case of the flu and had a history of severe respiratory infections. “This option is not one that comes from fear, but just precaution. Many of my colleagues are beginning to do this.”
In the Mar. 8 email, the administration noted that “faculty should plan for the possibility of remote and online teaching, which may need to be instituted with very short notice.”
Some worry that the use of remote instruction will negatively affect marginalized students.
“I had a big conversation with students yesterday about the limits of remote instruction of those who can’t afford a good laptop, phone, or tablet,” tweeted Dr. K. E. Goldschmitt, Assistant Professor of Music. “Sure, many campuses have devices to borrow, but I’m guessing the gap will be painfully obvious immediately.”
Outside of Wellesley, more than 50 colleges and universities have announced the cancellation of in-person classes.
On Mar. 9, Amherst College announced that the college would switch to online classes effective Mar. 23. According to the Amherst website, all students will be expected to move off campus by Mar. 16 unless their petition to remain on campus was accepted. Universities in close proximity to Wellesley, including Harvard University, MIT, Babson College and Olin College, similarly followed suit on March 10. There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the listed schools.
“We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it. The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin.
Some students have called for the College to switch to online classes to prevent the spread of infection. A Change.org petition has garnered over 330 signatures as of March 10.
While the administration has not announced any plans for the future, students have been anxious about how the semester will end.
“There’ve been rumors of spring break being extended, and I’ve heard about a ton of people cancelling plans to try and prevent that,” said Jennifer Shan ’23. “I really hope not, but given that professors have been instructed to prepare two weeks of material, it’s a very real possibility.”
According to the College’s Twitter, the administration is slated to send an email by the end of the week updating students on the COVID-19 policy.