Community Conversations: Progress Toward Herd Immunity

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Provost Heble was joined by the COVID-19 task force co-chairs.

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This week's guests on the Community Conversations webcast were COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs Josh Keniston and Lisa Adams.
This week’s guests on the Community Conversations webcast were COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs Josh Keniston and Lisa Adams.
4/29/2021
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Watch the April 28 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble and COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston.

The possibility of graduating students being allowed to bring up to two guests to Dartmouth’s June commencement and investiture ceremonies is being considered, Provost Joseph Helble told viewers of this week’s Community Conversations webcast.

“This is perhaps the only moment in my many years at Dartmouth where I have wished we had a stadium that seated tens of thousands, so we could easily and safely accommodate guests for every graduate, as we do in normal times on the Green,” Helble said.

However, in light of encouraging trends in the past two weeks, including lower case counts regionally and nationally, he said, “we are exploring ways in which we could allow students to bring up to two guests, ticketed, to investiture or commencement, and do so in a way that is consistent with campus rules and local community rules expected to be in place at the time.”

Helble said he anticipated being able to say more about this in the next week or so.

“I need to ask for your patience as we try to finalize what will be feasible within local and state guidelines, and—to the maximum extent—equitable and fair for all of our schools, all of our programs, and all of our graduates,” Helble said. “We’re being transparent in saying we would like to make this happen, but we cannot yet promise that it will be possible.”

Helble was joined this week by COVID-19 Task Force co-chairs Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston in a conversation moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson. Adams is a physician and professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine; Keniston is vice president of campus services and institutional projects.

As the weather continues to allow for more outdoor activities and more members of the community get vaccinated against COVID-19, campus trends have been “very, very positive” in the past two week, Helble said—including eight days with no new student cases of COVID-19 reported, “bringing us back to the kinds of levels that we saw in much of fall term.”

Given these numbers, Helble acknowledged that many students and parents are wondering if on-campus students will have increased opportunities for in-person activities this summer—including more in-person classes.

Several issues make a substantial increase in in-person instruction infeasible, he said—including the fact that approximately 20% of enrolled undergraduates will be studying remotely during the summer term. Dartmouth is committed to providing these students with access to as broad a set of curricular offerings as their on-campus peers.

In addition, faculty have been promised latitude in deciding when to return to the physical classroom.

“Our commitment to the faculty, in asking them to pivot overnight last spring to online learning, was to give them the choice and to trust them to decide how best to engage students in learning,” Helble said. “I am confident that, if vaccination levels rise as we approach summer term, more of our faculty will be open to adding in-person elements as summer term approaches.”

However, despite the improving trends, Dartmouth is “not remotely close to herd immunity and will not be there by the start of summer term,” he said.

To reach the level of herd immunity that will allow the campus to return to full residential operations—the goal for fall term—70 to 90% of the Dartmouth community will need to be vaccinated. To date, only 12 percent of all undergraduates, and 17 percent of undergraduates currently living on or near campus, have submitted vaccination records.

As announced earlier this week, Dartmouth will be hosting two vaccination clinics for students, staff, faculty, and their over-18 household members on Wednesday, May 5, and Thursday, May 6, in Thompson Arena. The clinics are for those who have not yet received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Clinics offered second doses will be available before the end of spring term.

Appointments are required; the deadline to sign up is 11:59 p.m. Thursday, April 29, in order to tell the state of New Hampshire how many doses to provide. Participants will have a choice between the Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines. Students, faculty, and staff can sign up at http://dartgo.org/vaxappt. Dependents, partners, and household members can sign up at https://dartgo.org/vaxregfam.

“We are fortunate to be getting to a point in the vaccine rollout such that ample availability now allows individuals to make a choice about which vaccine they receive,” Adams said, noting that some people may prefer the convenience of the one-dose J&J vaccine over the two-dose Pfizer shot.

Adams noted that she “listened very intently” to last week’s decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice to lift the pause on J&J’s emergency use authorization “with the guidance that everyone is appropriately informed of the very low risk for serious adverse events” in women under 50, she said.

“The potential benefits of preventing hundreds thousands of hospitalizations and deaths (from COVID-19) far outweighed the risks with reinstating this vaccine,” Adams said.

Keniston said that an earlier vaccination clinic for faculty and staff receiving their second dose has gone smoothly and that the process will be similar next week.

“What people can expect when they show up is that it’s largely going to be staffed by Axiom Medical, our same partner for testing,” Keniston said. There will be a brief registration process and a 15-minute observation period after the shot is administered.

Keniston suggested that employees and students use the observation time to upload their vaccination record to Dick’s House, for students, and to Axiom, for faculty and staff. The information will be used “for making decisions at the aggregate level,” he said.

Among other topics discussed during this week’s show:

  • Researchers will have additional flexibility for accessing laboratories beginning May 10, including longer hours of operation and loosened distancing requirements in some lab settings, as announced by Vice Provost for Research Dean Madden on Wednesday.
  • Live music events sponsored by Live@Collis launch this weekend with a senior showcase feature six senior performers.
  • The Office of Student Life and HopFilm will be sponsoring a weekly outdoor movie night beginning May 8 in the Kemeny Hall Courtyard.
  • The next “Tuesdays Together” gathering will be announced next week.
  • The schedule for reserving tents for informal gatherings has been updated.

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth’s Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. Broadcasts are expected to continue through the end of spring term.

For the most recent information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic, visit the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.

Written by
Hannah Silverstein