Campus updates for the fall 2021 semester

In light of the surge of the delta variant of COVID-19, President Sonya Stephens has updated health and safety plans for students and employees.

August 11, 2021

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke campus community,

Over the last several weeks, we have shared updated information about Mount Holyoke’s health and safety plans for what remains of the summer and for the start of the fall semester. In light of the surge of the delta variant, the College is making some important changes. I write today to share these updates and a few reminders, and invite you to continue to visit the Opening the Gates web pages for the most current updates on the College’s COVID-19 response and policies. 

As the pandemic has evolved, we have monitored and responded to the near-constant emergence of new or changing information about variants, vaccinations, health and safety strategies and more and we will continue to do so. Our focus is on a safe return to primarily in-person campus operations this fall, and, while we acknowledge that uncertainty persists, our plans remain undergirded by three core principles:

  • Achieving as close to universal vaccination as possible within our community.
  • Personal responsibility and accountability for health and safety practices.
  • Compliance with community compacts and all College policies, which will be adjusted as needed in response to local public health and campus conditions.

Our vibrant in-person academic, co-curricular and residential offering is at the core of the Mount Holyoke experience for undergraduate students. I know that there is some anxiety among members of our community, and more generally, as we resume campus life and as the world continues to confront new variants of the virus and to adapt to evolving public health conditions. While there is no way to completely eliminate risk, nor to prevent COVID-19 cases entirely within our campus community, all the scientific evidence points to the effectiveness of the vaccines, which have been shown to protect individuals from the worst forms of the illness; to the safety benefits of using face coverings indoors, regardless of vaccination status; and to the proven success of asymptomatic testing in mitigating transmission. 

Vaccination Updates

We are continuing to work toward achieving as close to a fully vaccinated campus community as possible. At this time, and given the exemptions so far approved, 89% of active employees have documented that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We remind you that the deadline for submission of documentation of vaccination is August 13, and employees who do not provide this documentation or do not comply with the College’s vaccination policies will not be permitted to work and may not enter campus buildings.

To date, 86% of students have documented full vaccination. We anticipate that around 70 students who are currently unable to obtain a WHO-approved vaccine in their home country will participate in our vaccination clinic on August 28, bringing student compliance to 89% as of this writing. A student’s continued enrollment at the College is contingent upon compliance with our vaccination policy and proof of vaccination. 

We can also report that 23 medical or religious exemptions have so far been granted to members of the College community. 

In a further effort to protect members of our community and promote vaccination, Bright Horizons employees who work at Gorse Childcare Center are now required to comply with the College’s vaccination policy. Enrolled families are receiving health and safety updates directly from Bright Horizons, including a recent request that all children over the age of two wear masks in the facility.


Community members and all campus guests and visitors are expected to abide by our health and safety policies, including the wearing of masks. Some have raised questions about how to address community members who are unmasked. It is perfectly appropriate to share a friendly reminder directly with the individual. If they refuse, or if there is repeated failure to follow the mask mandate, students can file a report, as outlined in their community compact. Employees who need guidance or advice on how to address cases of non-compliance with the College  mask mandate should first contact their supervisor to discuss strategies.

  • In recognition of the increased and continuing spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, and the evolving understanding of its transmission, the College requires that, as of August 6, 2021, masks be worn indoors (whenever outside private space) by all individuals, regardless of vaccination status. As defined by the College, private spaces are student/staff rooms in residence halls and single-occupancy offices. Other kinds of workspaces, such as open-plan environments, shared offices and cubicles, should be evaluated at the departmental level, taking into consideration whether an individual is working alone or with others. 
  • This indoor mask mandate will remain in effect until at least October 8, and will certainly be extended should public health and/or campus conditions require it.  
  • Masks may be removed when actively eating in dining spaces or in other indoor locations where food and beverages may be consumed. Each individual should determine for themselves their level of comfort in dining in close proximity to others. We ask that all members of our community be mindful of those around them whenever removing masks to eat in non-dining spaces, and that you adhere to all posted signs and College policies relating to the different spaces on campus. We are examining our indoor dining strategies carefully and frequently and will share updates should we need to make any changes.
  • The wearing of masks outdoors remains optional and is encouraged when physical distancing is not possible. Certain campus events may require masks outdoors, and community members will not be allowed to participate in such events unless they have appropriate face coverings.


Move-in Testing

The safety protocols we have in place — a high community vaccination rate, arrival and frequent asymptomatic testing and expanded masking policy — are designed to be complementary measures and to monitor health and safety as we welcome a large number of students to campus in a uniquely compressed timeframe and under these unusual circumstances. Information about testing, and the opening hours of the Mount Holyoke Testing Center, are updated frequently and available on the Center’s webpage. Here are the key requirements:

  • Unvaccinated students must obtain a COVID-19 test 48-72 hours before returning to campus. If a student tests positive, they must notify the College and may not arrive for move-in until they have completed their isolation at home or in their current location, and received clearance from a medical professional.
  • As previously communicated, all residential students will receive a COVID-19 test on arrival. In addition, all residential students arriving on or before August 27 must receive a second negative test prior to attending classes.
  • Students who arrive on August 28 or 29 and receive one negative test will be permitted to attend class beginning August 30. These students will be required to test again on August 31 or September 1, respectively. (Unvaccinated students arriving August 28 or 29 must have received two negative test results prior to attending class: a pre-arrival test and at least one campus-administered test.)
  • Any non-resident students who are taking in-person classes on campus are also required to receive two negative tests, at least 72 hours apart, between August 23 and August 29, prior to attending classes. Commuters will receive more information in due course, and by direct message, explaining when they should come to campus to be tested. 
  • Beginning on Friday, August 13, the testing center will be in the Abbey-Buckland Multipurpose Room. The entrance is located on Mary Woolley Circle and there is ample parking in the nearby Gorse lot. 

Asymptomatic Testing through October 8, 2021

  • Beginning August 23, weekly testing will be required for employees who are interacting closely and frequently with students and/or each other. This includes all teaching faculty and most staff. 
  • Following arrival testing, all students who reside on campus are required to be tested twice weekly through the College’s asymptomatic testing program. The frequency of testing may be adjusted by the College at any time, depending on public health conditions and any evolving trends in this pandemic.
  • More information regarding testing schedules will be shared directly with employees and students. 

In-person meetings and events

Our vibrant in-person academic, co-curricular and residential offering for undergraduates comprises many in-person interactions on campus. Given current COVID-19 trends, we recognize that some meetings may need to be conducted remotely for any number of reasons. We ask that department heads and division leaders determine the most effective strategies for non-class meeting activities. Please review the previously shared Events Oversight Committee policy for general event guidance and consult with your supervisor, department head or division leader if you have further questions. 

Community Compacts

  • The 2021-2022 residential student community compact is now available on my.mtholyoke. All residential students are required to acknowledge and abide by this compact. Commuter students can also access their customized compact on my.mtholyoke.
  • Our employee compact is currently under review, and employees will be expected to indicate their agreement by signing electronically once it is finalized.

For all questions regarding our COVID-19 response, please email We continue to review your questions and concerns, to  evaluate public health information and to review the College’s approach to an ever-evolving situation.

We are very much looking forward to the fall semester, to welcoming students to campus and  to the many opportunities to engage with one another. In order to do so safely, we will need to remain vigilant. We are deeply grateful to be part of a community that takes such responsibilities seriously and that demonstrates self-care and care for others in so many ways.  Thank you all for supporting these efforts to keep Mount Holyoke and our surrounding communities safe.