Community Conversations: ‘A Delicate Moment’

News subtitle

With students back, the interim provost and guests discuss COVID-19 safety.

David Kotz holds up a home COVID test kit
Interim Provost David Kotz ’86 holds up a home COVID-19 test kit during Wednesday’s Community Conversations broadcast. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Watch the Sept. 15 Community Conversations webcast with Interim Provost David Kotz ’86, Health Service Director Mark Reed, Executive Vice President Rick Mills, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith.

The enrollment of more than 4,600 undergraduates and the start of in-person teaching across Dartmouth’s schools has been a joyful moment a year and a half after the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted campus operations, Interim Provost David Kotz ’86 told viewers during this week’s Community Conversations webcast.

But, he cautioned, “We are in a very delicate moment.”

Ninety-six percent of the Dartmouth community is currently vaccinated. But with COVID-19 cases rising regionally and nationally due to the spread of the more-contagious delta variant, and a total of 20 students, faculty, and staff currently in isolation with the virus, it is critical that all members of the community continue to follow safety rules—including the recently reinstituted policy requiring masks indoors.

As President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 said in a welcome message this week, the goal of all of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 policies is “to keep our campus as open as possible and maintain as much of the student experience as we can while minimizing the risk” of serious illness, especially for those who cannot be vaccinated.

Keeping the community healthy—and shared facilities open—“will take the cooperation of each and every one of us,” Kotz said. “So please keep the mask on. We can do this.”

Kotz was joined by Rick Mills, executive vice president for finance and administration; Mark Reed, director of the Dartmouth College Health Service; and Elizabeth Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The conversation was moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.

Of the start of fall term, Smith said, “The faculty are incredibly excited about teaching in person again. This is what they love to do.”

Faculty are currently teaching 634 undergraduate courses for a total of 880 sections—98% of which are being taught in person, she said. The exceptions are courses taught by faculty members who have received accommodations due to medical concerns for themselves or for family members.

Mills, who, with Kotz, heads Dartmouth’s current COVID-19 leadership structure, discussed the availability of isolation space for students who test positive for the virus. There are 20 isolation beds available on or near campus, of which 11 are currently occupied. As needed, approximately 100 more spaces will be made available in the Boss Tennis Center.

Mills said he thinks Boss may be needed this week. But, he added, “We will see what the numbers show.”

Mills said a new policy gives employees paid time off—separate from sick time or vacation time—should they test positive or need to take care of a family member who tests positive for COVID.

“This will give more flexibility to our employees and give them more opportunity to take care of themselves and their family members,” Mills said.

Reed discussed ongoing initiatives to help support student mental health, describing it as a community effort. “One of my favorite things about Dartmouth are the connections that people have here. Faculty and staff really care and are invested in the development and happiness of students,” Reed said.

Among the initiatives, Reed described Dartmouth’s partnership with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit that works to protect emotional health and promote suicide prevention for teens and young adults, as well as ongoing efforts to increase staff and other health resources available to students and to provide training on stress management skills.

Kotz and Mills said that the COVID-19 leadership team will continue to review data and next week will announce policy adjustments to maintain, increase, or decrease the current level of safety restrictions—from the masking policy to the return date for staff members who continue to work remotely.

“If we’ve learned anything, it is this: Quick action with a few constraints now can contain the spread and avoid greater restrictions later,” 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 Sept. 29.

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

Hannah Silverstein