- Dartmouth will announce by June 29 whether students will be able to return to campus for the fall term.
- Dartmouth expects to be facing a $100 million-dollar combined operating loss.
- Dartmouth is committed to pay all salaries through June 30, and will announce by early June whether there will need to be furloughs or layoffs.
- Dartmouth’s leadership has not decided yet if it will apply for federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- Decisions regarding programming for incoming students, such as first-year trips, orientation, and the First Year Student Enrichment Program, should be made by early June. Announcements on fall off-campus programs should be announced by mid to late May.
- Dartmouth is working on a plan to help some research resume, beginning this summer.
- Dartmouth will announce in the next two weeks how 3,200 students will get their belongings back by the end of the summer.
Welcome everyone to our first community conversation, addressing Dartmouth’s planning, response and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, I’m the Dartmouth College provost. And I’m joining you this afternoon from a nearly empty campus, sitting in a very quiet star instructional studio. It’s great to have a chance to connect although, I will say personally, it’s not nearly the same. Looking around at the campus today and seeing it nearly empty of students, empty of faculty and staff on a beautiful springtime day, it certainly doesn’t feel quite right to me and I know it doesn’t feel quite right to any of us, that the campus is certainly different. In our conversations this afternoon, I’m going to be joined by Justin Anderson who is our vice president for communications, who is sitting in another studio on campus.
And our COVID-19 taskforce co-chairs, Josh Keniston, who is the interim VP for campus services, joining us from his home, and Lisa Adams, who is a professor of medicine at Geisel and MD, our associate dean for global health in the Geisel School of Medicine, a professor of medicine and a specialist in the care and treatment of the infectious TB, and Lisa is also joining us from her home in Norwich. Our format that ... Each week for these sessions, is going to be a brief update, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, where I will walk through some of the decisions that were in the midst of making and talk about planning for the next set of decisions, that will affect operations and academic planning and academic operations on the campus in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll then take live question and answer, that will be moderated by Justin Anderson.
And then, turn to have a brief conversation with campus leaders in this case today, the taskforce co-chairs, Josh Keniston and Lisa Adams, and then we will turn to you the audience for any questions you’d like to put specifically to our guests, before I wrap up briefly with a few words at the end. Our goal in these campus communications, these campus conversations, is to amplify the messages that the taskforce co-chairs, that President Phil Hanlon and I have been putting out in our written communications, and again to give you an update on what’s happening now on campus and at Dartmouth, and truly to do our best to answer the questions that we know are on everyone’s mind.
Now, the decision that we made most immediately that I trust nearly everyone has seen and is familiar with, is the decision we announced a week ago, Monday, around summer term, the transition to a full summer term of remote learning. What I’d like to do today is not go through that decision per se because I’m trusting that you’re all familiar with the details, but speak a little bit about the process that led us to that decision, to help give everyone a sense of how we are beginning to think about the process leading to decisions around fall term. When we made the announcement of the summer term decision last Monday, I can tell you that my email inbox, President Hanlon’s email inbox, Dean Lively’s email box, the taskforce email inbox, and every other senior leader, immediately began receiving questions, appropriately, about what’s next.
What’s the timeline for decisions that impact other operations this summer? What’s the timeline for decisions about the fall term? What kinds of decisions are we contemplating for the fall term? And I anticipate today that many of you will have questions there. But as I said, let me start with summer and just take a few minutes to walk through the thinking that guided our decision making. Now, from the beginning as we’ve approached our decisions related to campus operations and Dartmouth operations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have said, and I have said as clearly as I can, that our absolute first priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of the community. This means, the health, safety and wellbeing of our student community. It means, the health, safety and wellbeing of our campus faculty and staff community, and it also means the health, safety and wellbeing of the broader Upper Valley community that interacts with Dartmouth so directly on a daily basis.
We’ve also said, and I’ve also said, that paramount in this, is ensuring the educational continuity of our students. This is the educational continuity of students in the classroom, this is the educational continuity of students pursuing independent research projects, this is the educational continuity of undergraduate and graduate students alike across the entirety of the Dartmouth campus. And our goal and my goal in all of this, is to be in a position where guided by the taskforce, we are able to make and I am able to announce, operational decisions as early as we can, to provide certainty and guidance in the community, but to provide them as late as possible, to be as well informed as we can in making those decisions. And I recognize that those principles may seem inherently contradictory, but that’s part of the challenge and so much of what we’re wrestling with in planning our response to COVID-19. We recognize that so many members of our community are looking for certainty so they can be able to plan.
But we also recognize that the parameters in federal and state guidance are changing so rapidly that we don’t want to make decisions that have tremendous operational impact and tremendous impact on our workers, on campus, our students, our faculty and staff, and the larger Upper Valley community, any sooner than we absolutely have to. So, what parameters are we thinking about as make decisions related to COVID-19? Well, first and foremost, we need to look at the rate of progression of the disease, in our local community, in the states of New Hampshire and Vermont, nationally and also internationally. Why do we need to be thinking about the progression of the disease beyond just the Upper Valley? Well, that’s because Dartmouth draws a national and international community of scholars and students to our campus. And so, it’s not just progression of the disease and the surrounding Upper Valley environment that’s relevant, but it truly is the rate of infection and the rate of containment of the disease across the entire country, across the entire world.
We have to ask ourselves whether we have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and adequate ability to test people who are infected or potentially infected or exposed, before making a decision that we can bring large numbers of students, faculty, and staff back to campus. We ask ourselves whether our ability to make operational decisions that would begin to reopen the campus, need to rely on unrealistic expectations of our students and our community. You can imagine if we said we can open the campus to students but it can be one student per building, you need to be fully gowned at all times, and you need to effectively be locked in your room and not interact with another human being, that’s certainly not the Dartmouth experience we want to promote and that’s not a realistic expectation to impose upon our students. We need to ask whether there is still a need in federal and state guidance, requiring self-quarantine of all individuals returning to our campus. And we take a look at what decisions our peers are making.
And here I have to say, it’s been extraordinarily how openly our Ivy League peers and other educational peers, and we, have been sharing information and planning together. We are all in this together as we try and figure out the best path forward, to bring students, bring staff, bring faculty and bring research activity and educational activity back to our campuses. Decisions our peers are making are informative, but they are not determinative. Because, each institution and certainly Dartmouth, in our rural environment in Northern New Hampshire, has some unique characteristics that have to be considered as part of the process. And finally, let me say that the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn associated with all of the self-isolation, self-quarantine and self-restriction and cessation of travel and restriction of economic activity, have had on a higher end broadly and on Dartmouth, have to be part of our calculus.
We’ve said quite openly over the past few weeks that, our loss in the fourth quarter alone of fiscal year 2020, the fiscal year that ends June 30, was over $50 million operationally, and that’s not counting additional investment losses in our working capital pool. We anticipate and project that there will be additional losses of $7 million over the course of the summer. With that kind of revenue loss, that kind of loss affecting all of higher education, we have to think about not just our ability to sustain that level of loss, but we have to think about the impact on our community and on jobs as we begin to make decisions for opening or reopening down the road. So, when could we reopen residentially? What are the factors that we consider in making a decision whether or not summer, or for that matter, whether or not fall, would be an appropriate time to begin bringing students back to campus?
Well, here too, we’re guided by advice from federal and state authorities, we’re guided by advice from academic experts including our own, we’re guided by advice of business groups that are providing recommendations to their communities as to when businesses can be reasonably reopened. And some of the best guidance we’ve seen actually, came over a month ago from the American Enterprise Institute, where they laid out pretty clear parameters that govern when an institution can begin to think about reopening for business or in our case, reopening for residential education. And those are, a steady reduction in the case load in the relevant geographic area. And they recommend a steady reduction in cases over a period of 14 days. The presence of adequate treatment capacity to treat those who are infected and affected in your community. The presence of adequate testing capacity and the presence of adequate monitoring, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation capabilities. And when you look at all of that together and you think about where we are today as we look forward to the start of summer term in a little less than two months’ time, and ask, do we have these?
The answer for most of those is, no. We have been pleasantly surprised, perhaps due to the effectiveness of some of the social distancing measures in the Upper Valley, that our local medical system, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, has seen far fewer cases of COVID-19 than they had anticipated. So, we do at this moment in time, have adequate treatment capacity in the Upper Valley healthcare system. But on all of the other measures including effective testing capacity, availability of PPE, monitoring into contact tracing capacity, we are not where we need to be to consider a significant reopening residentially of our campus. So the decision we announced was to be remote only for the summer, with our coursework to be graded, as Dean Elizabeth Smith and I had announced, in mid-March when we indicated that the spring term would be a term with no credit grading only. We announced for our sophomores who will not be able to have a residential sophomore summer experience this year, that if they wish, they could choose instead to be in residence in the summer of 2021, to experience that summer in Hanover as part of their education.
We also announced the cancellation of on-campus Tuck Bridge program, the remote start of the Tuck and Geisel master in health care delivery science programs, and the cancellation of all on-campus athletic camps, performing arts events and the Hanover Country Club for the summer. Basically, physically, at this point in time, we have announced that the campus is remaining closed for educational activity and for residential activity over the course of the summer. So with those decisions, what comes next? The first thing that I know is on the minds of many of our undergraduate students, is the logistical question. Now that summer term is not happening as a residential term, how will we return your belongings to you that you had to leave behind when you went home for spring break? That’s something that taskforce is working on and I’m going to turn to Josh Keniston and Lisa Adams in a few minutes, to provide some insight in the answers to that question.
What about grading? What does a graded summer experience look like? Well, we will return to graded and evaluated coursework, but our faculty committees are working through questions around the specific parameters, whether or not we might, for example, expand the NRO option, and I anticipate having an announcement out to campus with the details on that within the next two weeks. And what about fall term itself? As we think about fall term, the immediate and obvious options that may come to mind for everyone are the two extremes. Either fall term is another term that is fully remote learning, continuing the practice of spring term and summer term, or fall term is a full residential term with everyone back on campus life as usual, business as usual.
As I sit here over these past few months and talk with epidemiologists, talk with physicians, talk with our scientists, talk with public health officials and talk with our colleagues on the task force, is becoming increasingly clear to me that the opportunity for a flip the lights switch, return to normal, business as usual operation, is, well I won’t say impossible, highly unlikely, for us or any of our other peer or higher educational institutions. So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us considering and contemplating things that I would call, hybrid operation. Where some fraction of our students would come back to campus, some fraction of our students would continue in residential learning. But let me say clearly and unequivocally, that in all of these options, Dartmouth will be open as an educational institution this fall. We are not in any way contemplating cancellation of the fall academic quarter. We are working diligently right now with the task force to figure out how we can most effectively structure that fall term, and how we can bring safely and securely the maximum number of students back to campus for our residential experience this fall. How are we going to get there as we think about the summer and the months ahead? Well, first and slowly, as I said to a student reporter from The D who interviewed me the other day, we are going to begin focusing this summer and the very near term, on the slow reopening of our ... focusing this summer in the very near term on the slow reopening of our research facilities, bringing in graduate students and post-doctoral scholars and some faculty and staff back to campus in a very staged, managed and measured function.
We know that through that experience, over the course of the summer, we will learn some of the steps that will be essential to protect community health when we bring larger numbers of undergraduate students and graduate students back to campus in the fall.
We have just put in place this week, through collaboration with our partners at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, a health working group that is going to help us think through exactly how we can manage the population health, manage student, faculty and staff, on-campus health through this fall by figuring out how to effectively test and frequently test the community for presence of the disease, how to procure adequate personal protective equipment, what social distancing guidelines we can put in place, how we can effectively manage contact tracing when someone is believed to or is expected to have developed symptoms of COVID-19, what kind of monitoring can we have in place to monitor and manage community health and what kind of quarantine and isolation facilities will we have?
Our taskforce will focus on how we accomplish these things and an academic working group composed of deans and associate deans will be working with me to figure out how we structure the curriculum, recognizing that it’s likely to be hybrid, with some students on-campus and some students learning remotely, to most effectively meet the educational needs of our students.
There’s a lot of complexity embedded in all of this and so a question I’m sure that is on everyone’s mind is when will we be able to make a decision of when we will announce? We anticipate announcing our plan for the fall term by the end of June. June 29th is the operational date we have given ourselves to announce that decision.
Our fall course selection process, because we are not going to make an announcement on the structure of fall term until June 29, is therefore going to be postponed. Rather than having students register for courses in May, we are going to postpone the listing and timetables of courses to mid-July and registration for fall term classes will happen over the course of July.
But first week before we get to those points, we need to make and announce operational decisions around belongings, around grading, around June virtual commencement plans, which I anticipate are releasing in the next few weeks and around fall off-campus programs and travel.
Embedded in all of this, we also need to be thinking about steps that we will need to take in the coming months to address the extraordinary financial and budgetary challenge that COVID-19 has imposed upon this campus.
But let me simply say in closing that guiding us in all of these steps is going to be adherence to the first principles that I outlined at the very beginning. It is an absolute focus on the health and safety of our community, our students and our faculty and staff and the local members of the Upper Valley community.
It is on focusing on the educational continuity research and training of our students undergraduate and graduate alike. Let me say we are doing that with the community that continues to inspire me. It has been an extraordinarily resilient and supportive community.
I had meetings with two faculty committees last week and the stories I was hearing from the faculty committees and from department chairs in a meeting with all of the arts and sciences and their department chairs, just two days ago this week, about how the faculty are engaging with students, how the students are engaging with the faculty and how everyone is embracing this shift to remote learning. It’s been truly extraordinary.
Let me finally say before I turn it to Justin to take your questions that some of you who know me know that I’m quietly competitive and not that I like to see us in a position that beats the rest of the Ivy League, but I will point out this. Dartmouth, because of the nature of our academic calendar, has somewhat of an advantage here. All of our peer institutions had to make decisions to go to remote learning in the middle of an academic semester. We made the decision to do so at the start of the spring term, the spring quarter. So, we will have by the end of this term, a full quarter in academic experience teaching and learning remotely under our belts.
We will get a second term of remote learning completely under our belts by the end of the summer. So, when September 1 arrives, the scorecard will say that Dartmouth has had two complete terms of learning how to effectively engage with students, challenge our students, provide assignments, grade assignments and work with our students, mentoring and advise our students by remote learning, where many of our peers across the country are just about to start their very first semester of full online learning.
We won’t keep this to ourselves. The academic community, as I said, has been extraordinary and we will be sharing with them lessons that we have learned just as they have been sharing with us lessons that they’ve been learned along the way. Let me stop there. Thank you all for your engagement and for listening. We’ll turn it to Justin Anderson who will moderate some of the questions that I can see that you’ve been sending in. Thank you. Justin.
Thanks a lot, Joe. It’s nice to be with you, although it’s only virtual. It’s nice to see you. A lot of questions have come in over the course of the last 10 minutes. You just addressed what may happen in the fall. Fair number of questions about the summer, two questions in particular. I’m seeing a lot of questions about the return of staff to campus. One question, when will staff return to campus and then, how will you determine which departments or areas open first?
A really good question and one could ask, in fact, the same questions about research laboratories and how we would determine which ones will open first and what the schedule will be. First and foremost, we need to be responsive to the guidance and, in fact, executive orders of the governors of New Hampshire and Vermont. We are waiting for their indication that restrictions can be relaxed and we can begin to contemplate a lessening of the work from home expectation or requirement.
The task force has working groups that are looking at which functions we can and should first bring back to campus. Initially, I anticipate those will be functions that are either struggling to get their work done effectively through remote learning or those that are supporting the on-campus research enterprise is the first place to start. That’s something that is going to be a work-in-progress over the course of the summer and as I said, our guidance has to be driven by state guidelines and, in fact, executive order requirements in the near term.
When will it happen? It’s a question I’m asked often. This is a guess. I will say I am hopeful that by late June or the beginning of July we’ll begin to be able to bring people back to campus. It might be sooner. It might be later. That’s simply my best guess sitting where I am today.
Thanks, Joe. This next one, I’m assuming, is from, well it could be from a student or even a student considering coming to Dartmouth, when will a decision be made about first-year trips, FYSEP, orientation?
As you might imagine as we think about the academic programs for the fall, when we think about the schedule for the fall, there are groups who are looking very actively at the best ways to engage with incoming first-year students. What does that mean for FYSEP? What does that mean for first-year trips? I think we will be in a position where we can make decisions on first-year trips sooner than the June 29 deadline that we have announced for anticipating announcing the structure of the academic fall term. How much sooner? I don’t know. I don’t anticipate that we’ll be in a position to give an answer to that over the next couple of weeks.
Our first order of business is to look at international travel programs for the fall and I know that there is a working group in the task force that is committed to making recommendations around fall off-campus programs, language study and foreign study programs by mid to late May. I would imagine that we will be making decisions around FYSEP, other residential programs like FYSEP, first-year orientation, first-year trips in the same timeframe, so mid-May to late May, possibly early June.
Thanks. This question just came in about the endowment. Is there a possibility that trustees could find a middle ground between the fear of depleting our endowments and using this amazing rainy day fund for this extraordinary rainy day?
In fairness, Justin, that’s a good point because this is an extraordinarily rainy day. It’s a rainy day in ways that no one ever anticipated. Higher ed has experienced economic crisis before, but it’s the combination of the depth and the rapidity of the transition in operations and the transition financially that is something that we truly have not seen as a community of educators ever in our history.
How do we think about the endowment in this context? This is a question that friends and colleagues in town and on-campus have asked me by email frequently, because I’m not seeing too many people face-to-face, but frequently are asking me this question. The endowment, I think you used the term rainy day fund. You have to be very careful in acknowledging that the endowment, in fact, is not a rainy day fund. It is funding that was provided to the institution over generations with very specific purposes in mind.
Most of the uses of the endowment are restricted, restricted by SOU, statement of understanding. They are, in fact, essentially legally restricted. Where a donor gives us money very generously to support a specific building, a specific program, a specific faculty member’s faculty line.
The funds that come in through earnings on the endowment are used and can be used to support that activity only. They’re not fungible and they can’t be used to address institution-wide operational funding deficits. I think we need to remember in all of this is that we are, in fact, using the endowment to support the operations of the institution. Dartmouth’s fiscal year 2020 budget is roughly a billion dollars in the endowment. Earnings on the endowment support over $250 million dollars of those operations.
Why not draw more? There’s a fundamental principle that you’ll hear the president, you’ll hear me, you’ll hear the sport, the board, you’ll hear many of us speak about when we speak about the endowment and the use of the endowment, and that’s one of intergenerational equity. Dartmouth is the institution that Dartmouth is today because of the generous philanthropy of alumni and friends of generations past. It was stewarded and protected and preserved that enabled us to draw operating funds that enable us to have faculty we have on-campus today, that enable us to have jobs that we have on-campus today, that enabled us to have financial aid for students that we have on-campus today.
If those decisions had not been made to preserve the endowment, even in past moments of financial crisis, we would have fewer students, we would have fewer jobs, we would have less financial aid available, we would have fewer faculty, and so this principle of intergenerational equity doesn’t just apply in the past. We have to think about carrying it forward for generations to come to preserve the continuity of operations and to preserve the core of the Dartmouth academic and educational mission.
Let me just add, this is something I think about a lot by, perhaps, not to put too fine of a point on it, but I’m an engineer and I like to think about the quantitative aspect. I think about the numbers. We’re facing roughly a $100 million dollar combined operating loss if you include the working capital portion for spring term and summer term alone.
Why not take a $100 million dollars out of the endowment if you could and use this to fill that gap? That $100 million dollars once you draw upon it is gone forever. It’s not earning interest, the principal isn’t growing going forward. That a $100 million dollars would generate $5 million dollars in annual operating budget support that our budgets count upon.
Take that away, $5 million dollars, that is a hundred full scholarships for students that we would no longer be able to fund. It is 140 staff and faculty positions. The implications are huge to doing something that may seem like a simple step drawing from the endowment now to address an immediate financial question, financial challenge. For that reason, through generations, the trustees and the administrative leadership have always used the endowment as a resource of last resort because of the tremendous and long-lasting impacts it has on the future operations of the institution.
Thanks, Joe. I guess, let’s just stay on the issue of how we can fund our operation. There’s a question about the use of the federal stimulus money, part of the CARES Act. The CARES Act, as you know, is a $2.2 trillion dollar federal bill. Of that $14.5 billion, was set aside for allocation to institutions of higher education. As such, Dartmouth has been allocated a certain amount of that money. The question is, is Dartmouth going to take advantage of the CARES Act to use for funding for undergraduate grants?
The CARES Act, as you know Justin, and as the centers may know, sets aside funding for each institution of higher learning in this country through a formula that looks at student need. It is support that is designed to help address the economic hardship that it is designed to help address the economic hardship faced by institutions and by the most needy students on campus. Dartmouth’s allocation through formula has been announced at $3.4 million of support. We have not yet applied to accept that funding, but if we do, we are committing to applying 100% of that funding to support students and student needs.
Now, as you might know, those of you who have been paying attention to the press on this know that there has been some pressure applied on some institutions to consider turning down the funding because of the size of the endowment or because of the scope of the university. But if you look at those institutions, and particularly if you look at Dartmouth, there is no question that there are students in need, there is no question that there are students and families whose financial need will be increasing significantly because of this economic hardship.
So we are thinking very carefully about the value of accepting those funds to support our students at this particular moment in time. And as a matter of principle, I think one needs to keep in mind our students absolutely need this funding to help support what Dartmouth can provide. And we also have to recognize that in a moment where we’re asking all of the Dartmouth campus community through our salary freeze for faculty and staff, through the hiring freeze, through the request that everyone reduce their fourth quarter non-compensation expenses, we’re asking everyone to make financial sacrifice. I think it’s incumbent upon us to look to every source of support for the Dartmouth community and for our students. And so we were thinking very carefully about proceeding with filing an application to seek this funding.
Thanks Joe. So we’ve been receiving questions now for over a half an hour and I’ll tell you that the two most popular questions are number one, when and how can I get my belongings, which I know you said that Josh would address, so we’ll get to that. But the other most popular question is about layoffs and furloughs and when decisions may be made about that or announcements made about whether or not that’s happening.
That’s another really important question for so many members of the Dartmouth community, and there I can say we are committed to being as transparent as we can about any decision we need to make and to announce any decision as soon as we possibly can. I think you know that when Dartmouth made the decision to suspend residential operations for spring term in the middle of March, we made the commitment to continue to pay at full salary, all members of the staff for three and a half months through the end of June in the hopes that the economic hardship that we were facing in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year would lessen and in the hopes that we will be in a position to begin returning to residential operation over the course of the summer. That now is not happening and we are thinking very carefully about what a full term operation, a hybrid operation would look like.
Our needs to support students on campus are going to be driven significantly by the protocols we put in place to help preserve and protect the health of the community, faculty, staff and students, are going to be driven substantially by the number of students who are on campus and how our residential buildings are being used. So we can’t answer the question about any potential furloughs or layoffs until we have better insight into what the fall term is going to look like.
I said earlier, we’re not going to announce the fall term decision and academic decision until the end of June, but we will not wait that long to make any announcements about potential furloughs or layoffs that might begin as early as July 1. And so we are committed to making decisions on those to the extent that we can by the beginning of June. And we will be open and transparent with the community as we go through that process. And it’s something that I’m happy to continue to comment on in these weekly forums because I know how important it is to so many members of our community.
Thanks Joe. We have time for one more question before we get to Josh and Lisa. This is another one that has been popping up a number of times. Is the COVID-19 taskforce doing anything to consider student input and perspectives?
They are. Other than on one committee, there is a working group that has been working as part of the task force to help us develop a structure for a potential virtual celebration and commencement ceremony in June, not to replace the physical commencement but to give us a marker in time of this celebratory moment in the conferral of degrees as we anticipate then a full physical and normal commencement ceremony in 2021. There have been students contributing very directly to that committee.
In other parts of the working group, there were not and have not been students on the task force or on the working groups because the individuals on the working group were individuals who were charged with making major financial and operational decisions, controlling operational units, managing facilities, overseeing academic program, directing travel programs for the campus. We have however sought and received significant student input, significant student perspective that has helped inform some of the decisions that we made.
There was a tremendous amount of student input that was sought and considered as we made the decision to have spring term be a credit, no credit grading term. There is student input being provided in a very structured and helpful way through the student assembly along series of questions that they provided to us in leadership in late March and a second series of questions that I just received this morning that we will be responding to by early next week, that helped provide the student perspective and ask for student guidance.
And finally, I know that Dean Catherine Lively, the dean of the college and her team and student affairs have been hearing from students regularly and have also been reaching out to students proactively to seek student input on things like processes for getting belongings back that have been an important consideration as we develop plans for those steps that are happening next.
So there is a very important student voice in all of the processes we’re undertaking, even absent having students for the reasons I articulated, being explicitly appointed to this task force that’s comprised of institutional divisional leaders.
Great. Thanks Joe. And speaking of the task force, I think you’re about to speak to the chairs of the task force.
Yes. So thank you Justin and thanks to everyone who sent those questions in and please keep them coming. We will be doing this again on a regular basis and I look forward to taking more of your questions next Wednesday at the same time.
I’d like to turn now to Josh Keniston and Lisa Adams, the co-chairs of the COVID-19 taskforce whom I interviewed earlier when I introduced at the beginning. I’m going to ask each of them just a few questions to help give you a sense of the work that they’re doing, and then we’re going to turn it over to you with questions moderated by Justin again that you can put directly to the task force.
So first I’d like to ask Josh and then Lisa to very quickly and succinctly give us a high level structure of the task force from your perspective and talk about your specific role on the task force and your specific and current focus since one of you comes very much from the operational side of managing the campus, and the other one is an infectious disease specialist from the Gazal school of medicine. Josh, why don’t we start with you.
Sure. Thanks Joe. Good to see you and good to see you too, Lisa. So the task force is, Joe, we report directly to you, but really our job is to coordinate across the institution. I’ve been at Dartmouth just about three years and never have I had the chance in such a short period of time to get to meet so many individuals and that’s really been kind of a hidden perk here. But we’ve 24 individuals from all of the professional schools, from some of the key divisions that are represented on the task force. And then about a dozen sub working groups like travel support, business continuity, research continuity, a variety of areas all working on how right now, how do we think about fall and how do we track towards that.
So my role is really as the interim VP of campus services, is to come at this from an operational perspective, how do we think about getting the campus ready and responding.
Thanks. And Lisa as a physician scientist, tell us about your role on the task force.
Sure. Thanks again for having us participate. My role on the task force has really been to focus on the medical and public health aspects and the epidemiological data. I and my health and epidemiology colleagues are the ones who are closely examining that COVID-19 data for New Hampshire, for Vermont, for the U.S. and really across the globe. We are closely following the trajectories and slopes of the disease curves and looking at the various models that are designed to help us project what we can expect to see in the near future and longterm future.
We’re also of course dealing with the uncertainty in the data and the model projections and doing our best to examine all available resources and sources and to make the most sound interpretations of the data.
You also mentioned that we’re working very closely with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center colleagues and partners at the New Hampshire State Health Department to align our guidance, recommendations and plans for things like testing, access and capability and care delivery for our community. And you also mentioned, and I think it’s worth highlighting that our broader task force goal and what I take very personally and seriously is really to do our best to safeguard the health and wellbeing of those in our community. So I see my role as making sure that we have the best available data and information to make sure that all of our recommendations and the decisions by senior leadership are based on the best available scientific and public health evidence.
Thanks. And how often are you in touch with the state epidemiologist or your colleagues at DH? I remember certainly in the early days of this, it seemed as if you were on at least one call, if not more daily.
It certainly was quite frequent in the early days, especially as practices were getting implemented and changes were coming fast and furious at us and information, and we were having our first cases and figuring out how we were going to be dealing with those in the community. So now, it has sort of tapered off to a steady state of almost daily with Dartmouth Hitchcock colleagues and a little bit less frequently now with the health department. There are good colleagues of mine from the infectious disease section who were involved in both state and Dartmouth-Hitchcock leadership, so we’re always only a phone call away.
Okay, great. So it’s pretty clear there’s still very frequent collaboration and connection. So one of the questions I’ve been asked, less so now in the later stages of our managing the disease here in the upper Valley community, but certainly frequently in the beginning was, how are we fairing? How many cases are there? Where are they? And how are we accommodating them on campus? I know some of this is information that needs to be protected, but what can you tell us about the numbers and how we’re managing it on campus?
So what I can share is that to date, we’ve had just under 10 students with confirmed COVID-19 in the upper Valley. We’re also aware that there’ve been a few cases amongst our employees. We know that there’s community transmission in both New Hampshire and Vermont, so this really does not come as a surprise.
We’ve also heard from students who have moved outside of the upper Valley that they or a family member had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and our college health services providers have offered telehealth support to those students and I think are available to all students who have questions and concerns about COVID-19.
Now, regarding self quarantine and self isolation, we have identified spaces on campus that we have cleared and cleaned to allow us to isolate up to 35 students who are ill but not ill enough to require hospitalization. And we’ve also cleared and cleaned rooms for a similar number of students who have been identified as contacts to individuals with COVID-19 and need to a self quarantine for 14 days.
So these are spaces that meet our infection control criteria of having a single room, a private bathroom. And then of course we’ve arranged for meal delivery for students in those spaces.
Now, fortunately we’ve never had more than a dozen students in either our isolation or quarantine spaces at any one time, but we really feel that this has served as a good practice for us to know what will be needed practically and logistically and how will we manage when we are able to welcome more students back to campus.
Thanks Lisa, and I have to say one of the things I got to see firsthand a few weeks ago was the great lengths that the dining services staff have gone to take care of the students who are in isolation and quarantine. It’s really extraordinary to see the steps they’ve taken both to prepare meals for students who are still here on campus, but also deliver food to those who are in isolation and quarantine.
So Josh, let me turn to you now with a question, the question perhaps it’s on everyone’s minds, at least all of the undergraduate students, and that is the belongings that were left behind on campus. And so I know the task force is working on this. I know that you promised me I’ll be seeing the final plan very soon. What can you tell us about where that stands and when we we’ll be able to announce the campus the plan for returning student belongings?
That’s a good one, Joe, and I’m not going to have the complete plan today, but I’ll update you on where we are. We’re working hard and we’re probably about two weeks, if not sooner away from being able to roll that out. Dean Lively will follow up with those details as soon as they’re ready. We all hoped this was not going to go on as long as it has. We are digging in and looking at what the options are. It’s complex. We have about 3200 students’ belongings that we need to deal with and it’s things like how do you get thousands of boxes to box things up that we’re looking at. We’re looking at options to ship some of the stuff that needs to get there in a quicker timeframe.
We’re looking at all of that information right now and putting together a plan. We’ll roll that out, as I said, within the next two weeks. It’s going to take the course of the summer to fully implement it. But, by the end of the summer, we’ll be able to have belongings back to most of the students.
Thanks. That’s encouraging. I’m sure for many it’s not as soon as they would like. We know everyone would have loved to have had their belongings back the first week after we needed to close in the spring. But I also have to say that I’ve been impressed and appreciative of how the vast majority of students and their families have recognized that this is a public health crisis like none we’ve ever seen and have given us, the campus community and leadership, the flexibility to work through the plans.
I’m really pleased to see that we’re close to being able to roll out the plan and letting people know when they’ll get their belongings back. Last question I’d like to ask the two of you briefly before we open it up to the audience is around the question of return to research to campus over the course of the summer. I know the two of you, as taskforce co-chairs, have a working group that’s focused very specifically on this. Maybe, if you don’t mind, I can just ask each of you to provide a little bit more detail on what they’re considering and how they anticipate rolling that out and moving that forward.
Why don’t I get us started then? As you mentioned, we have a working group. Our research continuity working group, which is led by our vice provost for research, Dean Madden. This is one of our many working groups. That working group is actively exploring how to carefully and intentionally restore research activity on campus, including what practices need to be in place to protect the health and safety of our community.
This will be a careful and intentional process and is likely to occur in a staged or phased in fashion. Some of the things that we’re doing, that sort of my team will be involved in, is looking at lab spaces and personnel, and devising a ramp up plan that will take into consideration spacing so that we could allow the six foot social distancing. Perhaps limiting the number of people that are in the space over a day or even a week. Then also having to consider what are the cleaning or disinfecting practices of high touch surfaces. Maybe with that I’ll turn it over to Josh to comment on that piece.
Yeah. I mean, the other key piece that you hit on Lisa is, even within the labs, there are then the common spaces in the buildings. Part of what we’re looking at is what are the appropriate standards to put in place for shared spaces like bathrooms or common touch areas like the exterior doors to buildings? We’re working with facilities teams to think about how do we create the right level of disinfecting, and regular cleaning, and make sure that we have the staff ready to go.
It’s a lot of coordination. The other piece we’re watching closely is to make sure that the appropriate personal protective equipment is available. It’s been an issue across the board. It’s one that we watch very closely and want to make sure that the levels more broadly are available so that when our researchers are back that they have available what they need and that we are kind of doing it being aware of what the needs are for the medical community as well. A lot of balancing acts that have to be happening there to do that well.
Great. Thanks Josh. I’m pleased that you mentioned restrooms. There is a paper actually that I just saw in draft form this morning in nature science. It was a study done in some of the hospitals in Wuhan, China. They found that one of the areas they need to be most attentive to, where there was the highest aerosolized viral particle voting was, not surprisingly, in the restrooms. Let me ask Justin to turn to our audience and see if there are any questions coming in from outside that we can direct to the two of you.
In fact, there are Joe. Thank you very much. I think this first question probably should go to Josh. It’s an interesting one. Has the committee, or has the taskforce at all discussed the possibility of shortening the six week winter break in order to delay fall term and allow it to be conducted on campus? It appears as though a modification of the calendar would allow for more time to prepare for fall term. Is the six week break really necessary?
I would say the taskforce has examined lots of different permutations as we talk about fall. We’ve spent long hours thinking about the various ways to tackle this. At this point, I think our priority is to figure out what option allows us to get closest to what we would have called a normal type of operation. We’ll be watching all of that closely.
Lisa, maybe you can comment a little bit more on the timing piece and how we’re thinking about how that all impacts our decision making.
No. It’s a good question. Certainly a scenario, as just Josh mentions, that we have considered. There are pros and cons to almost every permutation that we look at. The delayed start maybe gives us a little bit more planning time upfront, but we really have to think about what we gain in those extra weeks versus having a Thanksgiving break towards the end of the term. For which we know people may very much want to travel during.
That seems like the cost benefit there of having people, again, leave campus, return to campus. Would there be a 14 day self quarantine period as there is now for people entering the state from elsewhere? It gets very complicated. We are looking at what we can do to provide and really preserve and provide the best educational experience in the the timeframe that we have.
Again, everything’s on the table right now as we’re trying to keep an open mind about all this. But I do think we are weighing sort of pros and cons to scenarios such as that one.
Thanks Lisa. I’m going to stay with you for this next question. It seems to be an area of expertise. If people who are sick are told to just stay home and isolate, rather than going to DH to be tested, how accurate do you feel the number of cases is for the Upper Valley?
We do know that our testing is not as complete as we would like it to be. The populations that we’ve been able to test are, it’s a small, much smaller cohort than we would like to be able to test. That testing has been available in other countries.
We know that our results of individuals who have tested positive is a great underestimation of probably the true number of infections that are out there. By what factor? What is that ratio? We don’t know exactly. There are some estimates out there. But I think, as we have more access to testing for both disease and to indicate past infection, we will be getting more information about what is the true extent of COVID 19 in our US population.
Thank you for that Lisa. Josh, I’m going to go back to you. A number of questions have come in about the Hanover Country Club and its status given the recent announcements that it will be closed for the season. Can you speak a little bit about that decision?
Yeah, I know that that’s one that there is a lot of disappointment for individuals as many of the decisions that we’ve made have. The decision is just about this season at this point and was part of a larger decision about our summer activities on campus, and wanting to reduce the number of people on campus and really limit the operations of what we have this summer.
The decision is about this summer. We’re in the process of issuing refunds for those who had membership fees. Then, as we look at the broader picture, as we get to the other side of the COVID crisis, we’ll take a look at how we move forward with the golf course.
Thanks Josh. We have time for one more question for you guys. I’ll go back to Lisa for this one. It’s an interesting question. Will incoming international students be prioritized for starting on campus in the fall? If some groups are allowed to attend, Will this include new international students? This question is about international students specifically. But the issue really is much bigger about, if we go to a hybrid model, how is the campus populated? I’ll go to you for that one.
Yeah. Let me make a couple of points there. I think everyone knows that we already are housing some students on campus. A small number. Less than 200 students. Some of whom are international students who were not able to return home. We will certainly expect to continue to be doing that.
In terms of who would be returning to campus, if we are able to do that partially residential term for undergraduates starting in the fall, that is very much still under discussion and will certainly be a senior leadership decision. I will say too, just to keep in mind about what fall term might look like for every students that are returning, that we are still expecting that there will be a requirement around some of the public health measures that are in place now.
Social distancing, the frequent hand washing, the use of face coverings, the probably statewide ban on large mass gatherings. We expect those are still going to be in place. We will be working to allow the largest number of students that we feel like we can safely welcome back to the campus. But recognize that some of these public health measures, many of them are still likely to be in place. However students are welcomed back, there will be guidance and some of these measures that we will absolutely expect our students to adhere to.
Thank you very much Lisa. Thank you also Josh. I appreciate your time and your willingness to engage with Joe and take some of these questions. There are a lot of questions that came in that we couldn’t get to. I do encourage folks to check out Dartmouth’s COVID 19 website, which you can get to through the home page.
There is a feature there, an email address that you can use to ask questions. We will try to respond to every question that comes in. If you didn’t get your question answered today, please think about taking advantage of that opportunity. Of course, we’ll be back next week and you’ll have the ability to ask more questions. With that I’m going to go back to Joe.
Thanks Justin. Josh, Lisa, let me echo my thanks for all of your great work leading the task force these past two months. But also for being part of our conversation today. To everyone who’s watching, I think you get a sense of the key, interrelated, challenging questions we need to address as we think about fall term.
How many students can we bring back? We’re committed to bringing the maximum number possible back to campus safely and with health and safety first and foremost in our minds. Who are those students who get to come back if not everyone is able to return? What curriculum can we put in front of them and how will that differ for residential students versus those engaging in remote learning? Then, as Dr. Lisa Adams just said, what will campus life look like? What kind of restrictions, social distancing, PPE, contact tracing do we need to think about as we anticipate fall term operations?
But with all of that, I will say again what I said partway through my remarks this afternoon, Dartmouth will be open this fall. We are not contemplating cancellation of fall term. Fall term will take place. The challenge for us is to figure out in the next two months the appropriate operating model that enables us to bring the maximum number of students safely back to campus.
Let me end there. Thank you all again for your interest and attention. We will be back at this time, 3:30, next Wednesday. I anticipate having as guests two members of the Dartmouth College faculty who will speak a bit about their engagement with students, and their experience, and what they are learning going through, for the first time, this tremendous remote learning experience at Dartmouth. Thank you everyone. Look forward to seeing you next Wednesday.