In an email on July 22, 2022, members of the Senior Leadership team announced that Wellesley would be dropping several of its COVID-19 policies for the 2022-2023 year. Many of the new guidelines provide greater flexibility for members of the Wellesley community. This includes optional testing and a more relaxed masking requirement, where faculty members can require masking at their discretion.
The email also announced that the College would no longer use a hotel for isolation and that students are expected to quarantine in the residence halls if they test positive for COVID-19. Continuing from last year, visitors must still be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and all campus buildings will still be closed to the general public, though invited guests are permitted inside.
Compared to peer institutions, Wellesley maintained stricter COVID-19 guidelines through the 2021-2022 school year, including mandatory masking in all campus buildings except for residence halls, and required twice a week testing. In a statement to The News from Piper Orton, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, and Karen Petrulakis, general counsel, the College spent a total of $13 million on COVID-19 measures from the start of the pandemic. According to Orton and Petrulakis, $5 million in funding came from federal COVID relief funding.
According to the statement, the College decided to shift its policies to be consistent with the “best practices at our peer institutions.”
“Our own experience with the Omicron variant last year, and particularly the increase in cases following Marathon Monday, suggested that isolating students off campus eased concerns but did not appear to significantly mitigate the risk to roommates of spread of the Omicron variants,” Orton and Petrulakis said in their statement to The News. “A significant number of roommates and other close contacts of COVID-positive students tested positive several days later because they had already been exposed prior to the onset of symptoms. This does not mean that a roommate or close contact of a COVID-positive student will inevitably contract the virus.”
Wellesley’s guidelines remain stricter compared to other colleges in the area. The Massachusetts Institute for Technology, for example, dropped their testing and masking requirements in January 2022. During the Sept. 26, 2022 Senate meeting, Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton drew attention to this fact.
“A lot of institutions have stopped having [testing], so I do think it’s a great thing that we’re still offering it,” Dean Horton said.
According to Orton and Petrulakis, for the week of Sept. 19 to Sept. 23, “241 faculty and staff and 616 students tested at the College Club.”
When Tristen Wallace ’24 got COVID-19 during the second week of school, one of her biggest fears was infecting her roommates. In accordance with the new COVID-19 guidelines, Wallace quarantined in her Tower triple with her two roommates. Wallace said she was worried about infecting her roommates and other people when she went to get food from the dining hall and ran into someone she knew.
“I could potentially be spreading COVID to a lot of people,” Wallace said. “I [felt] really guilty about it.”
According to Wallace, when she brought the concern up during an appointment with Health Services, they pointed her towards the Stone Center. However, Wallace said she felt addressing the lack of quarantine accommodations for students was more important than her own guilt. Neither of Wallace’s roommates tested positive for COVID.
When Warren*’25’s roommate got COVID, Warren chose to stay outside the room during his roommate’s isolation period.
“My roommate got COVID, and I haven’t had a place to stay given that my girlfriend is immunocompromised,” Warren said. “I have been [sleeping] in common rooms and [waking] up early so that I am not seen by facilities.”
Warren told The News that he no longer feels safe at the College and preferred when students with COVID-19 had to isolate in specific quarantine housing.
Warren and Pauline Paranikas ’24 both emphasized that they ultimately felt unsafe, given the current quarantining protocol.
“When the College agrees to give you housing, the presumption is that they’re going to give you safe housing — so they’re not going to give you a building that’s going to fall down on you, they’re not going to give you a building with a rotten foundation; they’re going to put you in a place where it’s safe to live,” Paranikas said. “That’s not the case when your roommate has COVID. I don’t think it should be the burden on students to find a new place to live; I think it should be the burden of the College to provide them with a space in which they can live safely.”
According to Orton and Petrulakis, accommodations are provided to high-risk students including for those who are immunocompromised. In their statement to The News, they mentioned that these were considered during the housing selection process.
Wallace, Warren and Paranikas also expressed concern over the new testing and masking guidelines. In contrast to last year, there is only one testing center, the College Club, which will only be open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Oct. 3 — during which the College Club continues to offer free rapid and PCR tests. Additionally, according to a Health Services representative, students can schedule a testing appointment through Health Services, though they are subject to availability. Dean Horton explained that since only 500 people have enrolled in testing, it did not seem feasible to hire an additional team of testers on West Side.
Since Wallace is living in Tower this year, she emphasized that it was difficult for her to get tested, given how far she lives from the College Club. Both Warren and Paranikas also said they would have preferred if testing were mandatory.
Similarly, while masking is required by default in the classroom, the ability to go mask optional worried Wallace, Warren and Paranikas. According to Paranikas, although one of her professors originally made masking optional, after learning about the rise in COVID cases, they required masking once again.
Due to a lack of information on the long-term implications of COVID-19, Paranikas said that she still believes it is the College’s responsibility to protect the community. Some students have gone a step further and taken matters into their own hands by organizing meal delivery systems for students with COVID and bathroom sign-ins.
“As long as COVID continues to be a really strong risk and exposing others to COVID continues to be a very risky thing to do for immunocompromised or elderly people, as long as that risk is present, the college should be taking care of students and preventing them from getting it,” Paranikas said.
*Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.