Returning to Campus for the Spring Semester: Important Changes

Letters to the Community
January 11, 2022

Dear students, staff and faculty:

In the weeks since our December 20 letter, we have all witnessed changes in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as evolving research and guidance surrounding the omicron variant. Smith remains committed to an in-person, on-campus experience because we believe we can do so safely. We write to you with important updates to our spring semester plans.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, our highest priority is protecting the health and safety of our community. It is important to recognize that, even in the context of omicron, we are in a better position than we were at the onset of COVID-19 two years ago. We have more tools to protect our community than ever before; these include widely available vaccines and boosters; frequent, on-campus PCR testing; and new treatments for individuals with symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to confirm the effectiveness of these tools in limiting the spread and negative health effects of COVID. Epidemiologists are projecting that the number of omicron cases will peak nationwide at some point in the first three weeks of January, depending on the location.

In this context, we are expecting to begin the spring semester with a higher number of cases than we’ve seen over the past two years. We also expect the vast majority of these cases to present with mild or no symptoms given the effectiveness of vaccines, the 99 percent vaccination rate of our campus and the lower severity of the omicron variant. The plans outlined below are designed to facilitate in-person teaching and learning while protecting those who deliver, support and participate in it.

Current campus status
As we shared in December, our interterm operations have already changed to adapt to the omicron variant. Interterm classes are primarily remote, meals are to-go only, and employees who are able to do so are working from home to reduce the number of people on campus. Students are being tested immediately upon arrival to campus and are required to limit in-person activities until they receive their first negative PCR test result.

Our campus positivity rate is currently between 2 and 3 percent, a relatively low figure compared to national and regional trends.

Remote first week of classes and work
Classes will be held remotely for the first week of the spring semester. Employees who can work remotely should continue to do so until at least Monday, January 31.

A return to operating modes
This spring, we will operate the campus in one of four modes (green, yellow, orange or red) that range from least to most restrictive. Changes in operating modes will be driven by on-campus pandemic conditions as well as local, regional and national trends. Details on these modes—including their impact on living, learning and working at Smith—will be communicated in the coming week.

Return to campus: blue mode
Effective immediately, the campus is operating in blue mode (“arrival mode”) until Monday, January 31. The following operational changes are now in effect:

  1. In order to spread out arrival to campus and minimize impact on campus isolation spaces, students with flexible travel plans are invited and encouraged to return to campus as soon as is convenient. All students must be back on campus by Saturday, January 22, at the latest and should register their arrival date as soon as their plans are confirmed.
  2. Upon returning to campus, students will immediately take a PCR test and self-quarantine until their first negative result. Students who are self-quarantining should remain in their rooms, unless they need to address a critical need or to promote self care, such as picking up to-go meals or medication or going for a walk on campus.
  3. Mandatory PCR testing for students during blue mode is now three times per week, with at least 24 hours between tests. Testing for on-campus employees will remain at twice a week.
  4. On Monday, January 31, the campus will move from blue mode to one of the four operating modes described above, depending on pandemic conditions.

Changes to our masking policy
Masking remains mandatory on campus at all times when students or employees are not alone, with the door closed, in their own individual rooms or offices or eating. Single-layer cloth face coverings, including neck gaiters or bandanas, no longer qualify as sufficient masking. The college now strongly encourages surgical or KN95/KF94 masks. Surgical masks and KN95 masks will continue to be available at the testing center.

Looking ahead
Among epidemiologists and public health experts, there is increasing consensus that COVID-19 and its variants are a disease to be managed, like the seasonal flu, rather than eradicated. This understanding is sobering but also clarifying as we navigate a path forward. Each of you has shown a remarkable commitment to the practices needed to protect one another’s well-being so that learning and working in community can proceed as normally as possible. In the next few weeks, we are likely to encounter continued uncertainty and disruption. For example, there are likely to be staffing shortages in some areas, based on what we have seen at other colleges. We are grateful for your patience and your ability once again to show resilience and care for one another.

As always, if you have any questions regarding our COVID-19 health and safety policies, please contact


Kathleen McCartney

David DeSwert
Vice President for Finance and Administration

Baishakhi Taylor
Dean of the College and Vice President for Campus Life

Michael Thurston
Provost and Dean of the Faculty