Undergraduates’ Return to Campus Will Be Delayed

News subtitle

Winter term will begin remotely, with residential students returning in mid-January.

Drone image of Baker tower.
Photo by Robert Gill

With COVID-19 cases increasing across the country, including in Grafton County, the campus residential move-in for the undergraduate winter term will be delayed, Provost Joseph Helble said today in a message to the community. Winter-term classes will begin as planned, on Jan. 7, and will initially be held remotely for all undergraduates.

Students currently scheduled to move in on Jan. 5 will shift to Jan. 16, and students scheduled to move in on Jan. 6 will shift to Jan. 17. Additional details were provided today to students and families in an email from Kathryn Lively, dean of the College.

Helble acknowledged that the change was disappointing. “We are sorry for the additional effort and challenge this will generate for many families,” he wrote. Yet, “given the surging rate of virus transmission, making room between the holiday break and the return to campus has become essential for navigating the winter residential term successfully.”

Helble also noted Dartmouth’s plan to create more social opportunities for students during the coming term and thanked the Dartmouth community for its continuing patience and perseverance during the pandemic.

Taking simple yet critical measures such as masking, regular testing, and physical distancing has enabled the campus to keep the number of COVID-19 infections low, protect the health of the local community, and ensure that Dartmouth’s campus facilities could stay open without interruption throughout fall term, he wrote.

However, community transmission through November grew more rapidly and reached “far higher levels” than Dartmouth had anticipated, a trend that is expected to continue, he wrote. “Unfortunately, we have all observed increasing COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths across the country over the past several weeks, and national and state modeling predict a continued increase in virus transmission rates into the new year—including locally—exacerbated by a surge resulting from the upcoming holiday season.”

New Winter Term Arrival Dates, Quarantine Requirements

In late October, Dartmouth announced that winter term would start on Jan. 7.

At that time, the country was seeing approximately 55,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, and the active caseload in Grafton County was fewer than 400 cases per million people, Helble wrote. Now, more than 200,000 new cases are being diagnosed nationally each day, the active case count in Grafton County has reached more than 2,100 per million people, and the “full impact of an anticipated post-Thanksgiving surge is expected to materialize this week.”

Based on the increase in COVID-19 cases following the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in October, and the growing number of cases in Grafton County, Dartmouth needed to plan for a similar post-holiday surge in virus transmission, Helble wrote. “For the health of our campus and Upper Valley communities, we need to provide additional separation between the holidays and the return to campus residential living.”

At-home pre-arrival tests for all returning undergraduate students will be conducted by Jan. 11 for students returning on Jan. 16, and by Jan. 12 for those returning on Jan. 17. All undergraduates living off campus are strongly encouraged to delay their return to the region until Jan. 16 or 17. The changes will not affect graduate or professional students.

All students will be tested on the day they arrive, whether are living on campus, living locally and learning remotely, or living locally on a leave-term. As previously announced, beginning in January, testing frequency will increase to twice per week for all students and for all employees who are regularly working on campus.

In a shift from fall-term operations, and in accordance with the latest state guidance, students will now be eligible to be released from quarantine after eight days if they receive negative COVID-19 tests. With this new guideline in place, most undergraduates will be out of quarantine by Jan. 26. For those classes offering them, in-person meetings will begin on or after Jan. 26.

The end of term timing will remain the same, with classes ending on March 10 and exams completed by March 17.

While many questions about the coming term will be answered by Lively’s message, Dartmouth has also established an email address, winterterm2021@dartmouth.edu, for inquiries. Staff will respond within 24 hours this week to any messages received by 5 p.m. on Dec. 11.

Looking Ahead

As Dartmouth has navigated the pandemic, it has learned that there is room for improvement, “particularly when it comes to delivering a more social experience for students outside of the classroom,” Helble wrote. “We have heard suggestions from many, and we will announce the first set of adjustments we will make for winter term later this week, both in our Community Conversations webcast and subsequent communication.”

Helble invited the community to tune in to this month’s webcast, at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9, when he and his guests—Lively and COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston—will speak more about Dartmouth’s winter-term operations.

Looking ahead, he said Dartmouth has been “heartened” by the news of the imminent release of purportedly effective vaccines, but cautioned that until they have been widely distributed, the measures that have kept the community healthy must remain in place.

“The promise of vaccines provides hope for positive changes in the spring and summer months,” Helble wrote. “Until then, we must remain united and stay the course. ”

For the latest information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.

Aimee Minbiole can be reached at aimee.minbiole@dartmouth.edu.

Aimee Minbiole