Many readers thought we were crazy to give 50/50 odds, back on March 17, that Williams would still be closed for the fall semester. How do you like those odds now? President Mandel’s decision to re-open (or not) in September is the most important made by a Williams leader in at least 50 years. So, let’s spend a week discussing it!

What is the causal effect on mortality of reopening Williams in September?

There are two possible states of the world in the fall: Williams reopens the campus or not. With reopening, some people will die. With continued closure, some (mostly) different people will die. Under which scenario would deaths be higher? Hard to know!

1) Death, especially among young people, is very random. There is, tragically, probably an Eph who might be killed by a car near her home in October who would have lived if the campus were to open. And, conversely, an Eph who wil die if Williams re-opens but who would have been safe at home if we stayed closed.

2) Deaths from CV-19 among Williams students are very unlikely, regardless of whether or not the College reopens. Are they a bit more likely if we do reopen? Perhaps. But I would view that difference in expected deaths as too small matter. Banning students from having cars would probably, in expectation, save even more lives, and we are not going to do that.

3) Deaths among non-students in Williamstown, both College employees and local residents, would probably be higher. How could they not be? And not only deaths caused by CV-19! Although I don’t know of a case in which a student has directly caused a death of a resident via a car crash or some other tragedy, in expectation, those are real risks. And similar risks, presumably higher, are associated with a student infecting a resident with CV-19. But, at the same time, student-caused risks go where the students are. So, when Maud brings student X to Williams, increasing the risk of death in Williamstown, she decreases (by the same amount?) the expected deaths in the place where student X used to be.

Informed commentary is still welcome! Just how much would reopening increase the risk of illness/death for our 300+ faculty members? I am not sure. But the amount, I suspect, is small enough that Williams will reopen, perhaps fairly strict rules about mask-wearing and social distancing on campus.

Print  •  Email