“Fall term is oversubscribed every year, and this year is no different. At the same time, we know that this year is different,” Interim Provost David Kotz ’86 told viewers during this week’s Community Conversations webcast, which Kotz hosted for the first time since taking over for former provost Joseph Helble, who will soon take up the presidency of his alma mater, Lehigh University.
In the broadcast—taped in person on Tuesday at the Starr Instructional Studio in Dartmouth Library’s Baker-Berry Library—Kotz hosted Ann Bracken, director of clinical medical services at the Dartmouth College Health Service, or Dick’s House, and Josh Keniston, COVID-19 task force co-chair and vice president of campus services and institutional projects. The conversation was moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.
Housing, Housing, Housing
Top of mind for Kotz and Keniston as the campus returns to normal operations this fall: how to meet demand for undergraduate housing in a year when, as Kotz said, “Many of you have been away from campus far more than you would like, and are eager to return.”
As of Tuesday, 93 undergraduates remained on the housing waitlist.
To increase the number of beds available to students, Dartmouth has converted some double rooms into triples, made common areas into dorm rooms, and has reserved hotel space for COVID-19 quarantine needs, freeing up unused space on campus.
“We’ve been turning over every stone trying to find more beds and we’ve been successful in a few areas,” Keniston said. In addition, Dartmouth is providing incentives for students to make alternate plans, including increased funding opportunities for off-term internships and research projects.
Other potential solutions, such as new modular housing or hotel space, are proving to be less feasible, Keniston said. Among the reasons: COVID-19-related supply-chain holdups, a local labor shortage, and the expected high demand for regional hotel space this fall as tourists return to the Upper Valley.
“We’re not stopping—we’re continuing to look at other facilities we can tap into,” Keniston said. “But we want to be clear that we can’t guarantee anything at this point for the waitlist.”
However, he added, “We’re not going to stop on any of our efforts” until fall term begins.
In the longer term, Dartmouth’s trustees have made housing a high priority. At their June meeting, board members allocated $1.65 million toward developing designs for renewed campus housing. And in March they created a supplemental endowment distribution, called the Infrastructure Renewal Fund, to address under-investment in several critical issues, one of which is the need for new and renovated housing. Plans are underway for a new undergraduate residence hall with a targeted opening in the fall of 2023, and a 500-bed graduate student housing facility set to open next year.
Keeping an Eye on the Delta Variant
With 91% of the on-campus community currently vaccinated, all community members required to show proof of vaccination or receive a health or religion waiver by the fall, and only one positive test for COVID-19 on campus in the past 40 days, the COVID-19 Task Force plans to disband at the end of July, as President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 recently announced.
While the change means “fewer meetings” for task force members, Keniston said, “There are mechanisms—in terms of groups of people that pulled together to communicate, and the way we share information, and the way we analyze things—that aren’t going to disappear. We’re going to keep some of those elements alive so that if we do need to reactivate it, we can do it quickly.”
Bracken said that Dartmouth’s medical staff is paying close attention to the spread of the more-transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which according to the Centers for Disease Control now makes up at least 83% of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
For context, someone infected with the original virus would, on average, spread it to 2.5 people, she said. “With the Delta variant, they’re saying one person might give that to five to eight people. So it’s much more transmissible, and what we’re seeing in the U.S. is in states where there are lower vaccination rates, there’s more severe illness, hospitalizations, and now deaths, too. So it’s a concerning variant.”
So far, the existing vaccines seem to be providing effective protection, and while booster shots may be necessary in the future, for now they are not necessary, she said. “We want to facilitate any students and staff and faculty who want to get vaccinated to do that.”
Information about how to find a vaccination site and how students, faculty, and staff can upload their vaccination status, or request a waiver, is available on the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website and at the Dartmouth College Health Service. Dartmouth will continue to host vaccination clinics, such as the one held in Alumni Hall on Tuesday.
Dartmouth is no longer requiring vaccinated people to wear masks on campus, but while there are currently no plans to reinstitute an indoor mask policy, Bracken said she hopes anyone concerned about COVID—or any transmissible illness—will feel comfortable choosing to wear a mask, and that masking when symptomatic will become a “part of our culture.”
“It’s nice to see people’s smiles this summer, but we are noticing that students are getting sick” from more typical college ailments such as strep and mono, Bracken said. “We know that masks make a difference. We had one case of flu all last year, and nationally, flu rates were really low. The evidence shows that masking really reduces the risk of spreading upper respiratory illnesses.”
Among other topics discussed in this week’s broadcast:
- For the summer COVID-19 testing has moved to the Courtyard Café in the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and the Williamson Translational Research Building at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Tests may be scheduled on the Dartmouth-Together COVID-19 website.
- To meet increased need for classroom space this fall—the result of both high enrollments and ongoing renovations of several facilities—Dartmouth is revising the class schedule to increase meeting times in the early morning and late afternoon, as well as converting nearly two-dozen meetings rooms into classrooms, Kotz said.
Community Conversations is a production of Dartmouth’s Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next broadcast is scheduled for Aug. 18.
For the most recent information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic, visit the Dartmouth Together COVID-19 website.