Welcome everyone to our 18th Community Conversation addressing planning response and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost of Dartmouth College, joining you from the Starr Instructional Studio in the Berry Library, on what’s turned into a snowy Wednesday afternoon in Hanover, Dec. 9.
I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio on campus. This will be our last scheduled Community Conversation in calendar year 2020. It seems fitting in that context that today we are joined by the three individuals who have been with us most often over the course of these conversations the past eight months.
My guests today will be Lisa Adams M.D., a professor in the Geisel School of Medicine, the co-chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 task force and a specialist in the care and treatment of infectious disease and Josh Keniston, the vice president of campus services (and for) institutional projects, and the co-chair of Dartmouth’s campus-wide COVID-19 task force. And Professor Kathryn Lively, the dean of the College and a long-standing professor of sociology here at Dartmouth.
Today, we’ll follow our regular format with the campus update, including today many announcements related to winter term, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Lisa, Josh, and Kathryn about plans in their areas, and then ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly.
Now before we consider winter term, I’d like to spend a few minutes reflecting on fall term operations. Back in June when President Hanlon and I announced Dartmouth’s plan for this academic year we stressed two overarching objectives—doing all that we could to support and protect the health and safety of the community, the Dartmouth community, and the local community alike and prioritizing educational continuity for our students undergraduate and a graduate alike.
This plan meant asking a great deal of our community as did implemented reduced density operations, strict limits on group size, masking at all times, and constant testing all in an effort to control the spread of the disease.
Sitting here today in December and looking back on this steep hill we all had to climb, I’d like to simply repeat what I have said in my email message to the campus on Monday of this week and on many other occasions. By following these simple but critical measures our campus, the Dartmouth campus, has been able to keep the number of COVID-19 infections very low and protect the health of the local community, and enabled Dartmouth to keep our campus facilities open without interruption all term long. To all who made this possible and particularly to our students who rose to the challenge, thank you.
To date, Dartmouth has conducted more than 57,500 tests with more than 42,000 administered to students and nearly 15,000 to faculty and staff. In the course of that testing, which has been underway since July, there have been a total of 44 positives for a positive test level of 0.076%. Reflect on this for a minute. This is an extraordinarily low level given the record cased counts that have been seen since early November everywhere you look—nationally, regionally, and even locally in New Hampshire and in Grafton County.
What do I mean by extraordinarily low? Well, our value is well within the 0.02-0.26% range reported for NESCAC liberal arts colleges. And among our peers among national research universities, this is one of the lowest levels in the country.
Within the Ivy League based on information reported on college and university dashboards, only Cornell has a comparably low level. Nationally, within the AAU, the association of the 65 most prestigious and active research universities in this country, for the nearly 50 institutions who report comparable cumulative data and extensive testing programs, only one other university, Stanford, today has a positive reported rate of less than 0.1%.
So, to emphasize that point, there are a total of three universities nationally including Dartmouth that have reported positive test rates over the entire course of the fall term of less than 0.1%. Most are in the 0.1 to 1 percent range, but there are also many that are well above 1%.
To provide some local context, in mid-to late-October the active case count in Grafton County, where Hanover resides, was less than 40 cases per 100,000 population. Today, as of Dec. 8, it is more than nine times that at 375 active cases per 100,000 population. Now for me what this makes clear is the absolute importance of frequent surveillance testing for all members of the Dartmouth community, students as well as faculty and staff who are accessing the campus.
As I’ve announced its previously starting in January and continuing through winter term, we will move to a twice per week surveillance testing protocol. We will also be conducting pre-arrival testing at home for all undergraduates who will be living on campus, for undergraduates living off campus who are approved for winter term campus access, and for all graduate students who are either new students or who are returning to the Upper Valley after travel away.
Twice per week testing will be provided in Leverone and for those on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus we will also offer testing at Williamson twice per week beginning in January. Now, one note for those of you who are currently living or working on campus, testing is going to move to Thompson Arena next week to enable us to do some work on the facility within Leverone.
Testing will therefore be in Thompson beginning Monday, Dec. 14 and it will remain there through Thursday, Dec. 31. So, for anyone who has a test scheduled next week, please report to Thompson Arena, not to Leverone and don’t worry if you make a mistake, there will be signs outside of Leverone directing you across the street to Thompson. We will be back in Leverone starting Sunday, Jan. 3.
Now, I recognize that as the temperatures drop, and the snow begins to fall the prospect of having to head to Leverone might be slightly less appealing than it is on a 60 degree, sunny fall day, but I cannot stress enough how important it is that everyone continue to comply with the testing protocol. Frequent surveillance testing was critical to avoiding outbreaks through the fall term and that becomes even more essential as we move into winter and spend even more time indoors.
Now, looking ahead to winter and spring there are several changes, mostly small, but all important that we will be making. I’ll be highlighting many of them here and we’ll be following up with more information over the course of the next several days including through postings to our COVID-19 website. Now first before discussing winter term, I do have some spring term news regarding undergraduate off-campus programs. We had previously announced the cancellation of all international off-campus programs. We have now concluded that we will also not be able to offer any domestic programs this spring.
This is unfortunate but most of the locations that house our programs are expected to see COVID case numbers rising significantly in the coming week and based on modeling, they are expected to remain at elevated levels into March. Given this and given the likelihood of continuing travel restrictions in the spring months, the projected strain on healthcare systems that we’re beginning to see now throughout the country, and the need to make decisions on planning and programming now we unfortunately no longer see a plausible path forward for these off-campus programs this spring.
Now turning to winter term one of the things our task force and its focused working groups have done this past month is review everything about our fall term, asking openly what we learned, what worked well in what we might consider changing. As part of that we also reflected on the input from many of the student groups that Dean Lively and her colleagues and student affairs have worked with. Input from Individual students who have written in, comments from parents, suggestions from alumni, and observations and thoughts from our employees, faculty, and staff alike.
We’ve heard many positive comments on the positives, including on our testing protocol and the extraordinary success in keeping the campus open and keeping students, faculty, and staff, and the surrounding local community largely free of infection. And we’ve heard other comments on the challenges associated with living and working on a campus with social interactions highly limited.
And with many students and particularly first-year students, the members of the Class of ’24 feeling as if they did not fully understand some of the restrictions on social gatherings or the actions that might result in their losing campus privileges for the year. Now, I have said many times on these broadcasts that we were committed throughout to open dialogue, to receiving your feedback and I want you to know that we heard you, and on several of these points, emphatically we agree.
So therefore, first and foremost, we are adjusting our approach so that anyone who loses campus privileges for a violation of our community expectations agreement related to COVID will be asked to leave for two terms not four. Essentially, we are cutting the length of the removal period in half. We will also apply this retroactively.
Among other things what this means is that those members of the Class of ’24, those first-year students who lost campus privileges in the fall, will be allowed to return to campus this spring and rejoin their classmates. Other students who lost campus privileges in the fall will also be allowed back for their next approved residential term. Dean Lively will be in touch to provide details to all those students later in the week.
Second, we’ve heard concerns that the process by which students lost campus access was so fast that some felt they had little opportunity to explain. To address those concerns, there will be for all students an informal review process where students will be able to ask questions and to share their side of the story before final decisions are made. In the case that the student is able to demonstrate that they were not where they were reported to be or not doing what they were reported to have done, which actually happened in several instances this fall, they of course would not face any further action.
Now related to this, it’s worth commenting on the outcomes of fall term in this context. As on all campuses, there were many reports of potential violations of our community expectations agreement. It’s a pandemic—people are rightly looking out for one another, rightly concerned. and rightly phoning in when they see something that they feel may be jeopardizing community health.
I suspect that’s the case on many campuses. And as I suspect is the case on all campuses many of these, in fact, the majority of reports were looked into and did not require any action. But I also recognize in the absence of data, not surprisingly, there was speculation about the numbers. At the start of the term, we indicated that we would not release this information because we knew that campus life with restrictions needed to protect community health would be challenging for many students and certainly for the ’24s who were living independently for the first time.
We expected that there would be some missteps and we did not want any individual students to be identified and to be criticized or blamed but now that we have reached the end of the term and most undergraduate students have gone home for break, we will in fact release the numbers to help answer some of the questions that have arisen in to help provide some additional context.
Over the course of fall term, we received just over 600 reports of possible violations of the community health protocols outlined in our agreement. All of these were looked into and over the course of the term resulted in 86 students losing campus privileges, 124 students be given warnings without removal, and 397 instances in which there was no action taken—none. Again, these constituted the majority of reports.
Now, this was hard for everyone and there is no question that winter is going to be a challenge. But if we look out for one another and remind our friends and colleagues that we all need to stay distanced, stay masked, avoid large groups, get tested, and otherwise follow the health and safety protocols that enabled us to navigate fall with one of the lowest case counts in the country on our campus, perhaps we can make it through winter with even smaller numbers and smaller numbers of students losing campus privileges.
To help in this regard, we are also making adjustments to allow for greater social interaction and greater use of the campus to provide more outlets for our students to engage with one another and do so in ways where they don’t feel as if they’re running in danger of violating our community expectations agreements. Limits on group size, of course need to be maintained. I can’t stress enough how important the other measures are to support community health but there will be additional opportunities.
Specifically, number one, after arrival quarantine has ended, students will be permitted in residence halls other than their own. Given the challenging state of the pandemic and the importance of keeping facilities occupied at low density access, at least initially, needs to be limited to students who are given access to a residence hall by a resident of that facility.
But basically, the bottom line is that students who are permitted to be on campus will now have the opportunity to visit friends in different residential facilities.
Two, we will be expanding access to larger indoor spaces both by opening additional spaces and by extending hours where possible. These spaces will be available to students for informal use and in some cases, for programming. For example, the Top of the Hop will be accessible in the evenings and we are looking to expand the use of Collis and other buildings, including academic buildings, that is presently being explored. More details to follow in the coming weeks.
To make this work, however, we will need student partnership. There will be paid student opportunities to help us manage these spaces with details forthcoming again as we approach the start of winter term.
Number three, we will be simplifying the process for using Baker-Berry Library. Baker-Berry will reopen on the fourth of January for employees and for graduate students and be open at that time from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. Starting Monday, Jan. 25, as arrival quarantine for undergraduates concludes, the opening hours will become 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Biomedical libraries will be open with shorter opening hours and Rauner Special Collections Library will be open by appointment Monday to Friday
In addition, the occupancy monitoring that’s currently being installed in Baker-Berry Library will be in place for the start of winter term. This means that there will no longer be any requirement for students to make reservations in advance to access the collections or study in the library. All details are available on the library website and as always online library resources remain available to you 24/7 through the Dartmouth Library homepage
Number four, we will be providing expanded opportunity for outdoor activity. Look, winter is one of the seasons we all know that makes Dartmouth different. This winter will be unlike any other but that doesn’t mean that it cannot have some of those special moments that make winter, winter. Those moments that truly make Dartmouth, Dartmouth. As I’ve said to colleagues at other universities here, we don’t just tolerate winter at Dartmouth, we embrace it.
So, number five, the Dartmouth Skiway will be open, and we will have bus transportation on the weekends. It will be different. It may be cold. We may need to keep the windows open, but the Skiway will be open and there will be transportation.
Six, we will be grooming the golf course for cross-country skiing and it will be accessible for skiing, for sledding, and for snowshoeing, and we will have additional equipment available.
Number seven, we will be expanding winter carnival with details to be provided by the Office of Student Life as the dates approach.
Number eight, we are working hard to expand ice skating which has long been a part of winter in Hanover. This year we hope to provide an additional rank either on the Green or near the golf course. Personally, I’m rooting for the Green, if we can make it happen. Details forthcoming within the next few weeks.
Number nine, we are working to expand access to Collis Center outdoors through the winter. We are exploring whether we might also be able to host things like fire pits around campus with details to follow as we get closer to winter term start.
And finally, number 10, this is not an exhaustive list this is an initial list. We are interested in your suggestions and creative ideas from everyone—students, faculty, staff, alumni, employees, community members, parents—on what else we might consider. things we could do within the confines of the public health rules we need to follow to make winter more social and more engaging.
We are, therefore, establishing a dedicated email address. It is … firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t worry, it will be a in written follow-up you’ll receive later this week. We have a group that will be meeting at least weekly to review ideas and suggestions and determine and announce what else might be possible.
This winter will be different. There are restrictions we cannot ignore, that we are months away from vaccines helping to bring this under control, but we can still embrace the winter. We can still look for ways to make Dartmouth, Dartmouth. Let me end before turning to your questions with just a few final comments, first to our student community, you endured a great deal this year. You endured a great deal this fall, whether learning with us here in Hanover or studying far from campus and far from the Upper Valley. And once again you showed us, and you showed me, so much and yet nothing in it surprised us.
You looked out for one another. You took seriously the rules to keep the community healthy and you engage deeply in your studies. And the point I’ve heard from many faculty are how impressed they were by the level of engagement and discussion in their classes this term whether fully remote or partially and fully in person. We look forward to having those of you who will be able to join us back in the Upper Valley.
I appreciate your patience with the delayed move-in date that we announced two days ago, and I wish the progress of the pandemic where otherwise but in the interest of your health and community health, we needed to take this step to delay return to Jan. 16 and 17. Rest assured, and I cannot say this clearly and emphatically enough, that this is not a first step on the path to a fully remote term. Now, none of us anywhere in this country can offer guarantees because we don’t know what conditions nationally will be like a month from now, but if things are as they are today, I assure you that we will be welcoming you back in mid-January.
And second and finally to our employees, our faculty and staff, I cannot say often enough how your commitment to our students and to this campus and to the community is beyond extraordinary. And I also know through your incredible effort these past nine to 10 months many of us, perhaps most of us, are running on fumes and really need a break. So, let me end with a simple request as we think about the next few weeks in the balance of the month.
First, I’d like to ask everyone to try to take an email pause on the weekends for the rest of this month. If it is an absolutely essential or time-sensitive from the time you leave work Friday afternoon until early Sunday evening, don’t hit send don’t tee it up in your colleague’s in box over the weekend. It can wait until Sunday night or Monday morning. Use your judgment, of course. This isn’t a prohibition and there will be urgent issues that need to be attended to but if we could all cut the weekend volume by 75% it would be meaningful to so many.
Second, I truly hope that you will all be able to step back and rest during the winter break. President Hanlon has generously extended the break by three days this year to give most of us a full two weeks away. Two full weeks starting Monday, Dec. 21 for everyone who doesn’t have year-end or project reporting and deadlines. Please take this time to step away, relax be with family, where possible and if possible, and above all come back recharged and energized. We need you. You have done extraordinary work this year and we look forward to working with you again winter term. Thank you everyone for all that you do.
Justin, happy to turn to you now for a few questions and then we’ll turn to Lisa, Kathryn, and Josh.
Thank you very much Joe and nice to be back with you on Community Conversations after a bit of a break. I can tell you that the theme today in the questions is mental health and how we are balancing the physical health imperative as we think about protecting our community with the emotional or mental health of our community.
And there’s a lot of questions that are along this line. I’ll just read one. I’m glad that Dartmouth has been successful in keeping COVID at bay, but physical health is only one aspect of health. What are the College’s plans to preserve the mental health of their students? And before you answer Joe, I will say that a lot of the questions are sort of premised on there has been a lack of opportunity or options of things to do outside of the classroom and as you went through the list I started to get a lot of commentary from people who are watching saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” so I think to some extent you’ve addressed that it with your list or you’ve begun to address it but still this notion of balancing physical health with mental health is a kind of question that I have seen a lot today and frankly in past webcasts.
Thank you, Justin. And thanks to all who raised that and it’s hugely important in it is absolutely the reason we are putting in place. Many of the measures that I outlined just a few moments ago. In fact, just a few hours ago, as I was going through my email before walking over to the studio, I got an email from a local parent who said he grew up spending a lot of time on the Dartmouth campus, loves the Dartmouth campus, loves Dartmouth and what it offers. But as he looked at the campus through the eyes of his child, he was concerned about the impact of the restrictions on the social well-being and the mental health of his child, and also those around his child, the community as a whole. And this is something we’ve heard we acknowledge, and we are taking very seriously fall term. I will say, honestly, was a journey for all of us together.
We were focused first and foremost on protecting the physical health of our community and hoping that with good weather, it was more than hope. We had a plan, but with opportunity for students to get outside, utilize the tents, maybe go for a run or a walk around campus that that would provide some balance in the fall. And it did work well. And it did work well for many, but it certainly didn’t work well for everyone. And so, we’re being very intentional in designing these additional activities, providing more access to students in one another’s residence halls, giving them clarity on the things they can and can’t do in terms of gathering in small groups so that they can just have time interacting with another human with another classmate, and also opening up things like the Skiway, the skating rink, snowshoeing, and so on.
The suggestion box is very deliberate and intentional. This isn’t one-and-done, this isn’t a situation where you’ve got our list, and this is what we’re going to do in the winter. And that’s the end of it. These are things we are committed to doing, and we are committed to examining ideas that come in as they come in. And I know there’ll be creative ideas and finding ways and finding the resources to support them. We encourage students to write in with ideas throughout the course of the term, even if it’s three days before a snowfall and you have an idea for something creative, you might do with some friends, let us know, and we’ll see if we can find a way to support that. We’re also looking for activities that aren’t necessarily athletically oriented, just things to get people together, things, to get people outside involving the arts involving, as I said, an expanded winter carnival. It might be worth actually my asking Kathryn, a bit about that in the Q&A to give her a chance to expand all of. This is meant to address the mental health issues that we’ve heard about from so many.
Oh, well, Joe, a question that sort of echoes the one that that you referenced that a friend of yours asked you, the friend who was an alum and looking at his child’s experience, looking at the experience through his child’s eyes, this person asks, could it be that the restrictions that have been in place are too strict with case come so low and without severe illness, should there be an opening toward in-class instruction? And so, this is taking, this is sort of different than asking whether or not we’re going to provide more outdoor opportunity and more social interaction, but whether or not we would consider expanding the in-classroom experience and maybe with, with bigger classes.
Yeah. So, in winter term, Justin, implicit in that question is a true statement. Implicit in that question is the observation that the curriculum as it’s being presented, winter term looks very much as it did fall term. Most classes are online or remote with some in-person elements, which could be walking around Occom Pond or walk around the Green, office hours, or an occasional meeting, or some access to a lab or a studio. We have as one of our guiding principles from the beginning, wanted our faculty to be in a position where they can make the decision in this restricted environment to deliver the content and engage with the students in the ways that they felt was best. Having said that we are encouraging more small in-person elements between faculty and students winter term, and we are working hard on expanding in-person access in the spring term. I think, and I’ve heard this from some faculty colleagues, the extraordinary success that we were privileged and fortunate to experience in the fall term has made more individuals comfortable with in-person engagement with students in the winter.
Still, many are concerned about winter, it being indoor season, it being cold to being cold and flu season. And given this surgeon case counts nationally and regionally, there is understandable, I wouldn’t say apprehension, but people are watching closely. As we move through winter term, if vaccines are initially deployed, if case counts begin to come down, as we move towards spring where the weather will be warmer and there’ll be more outdoor opportunity, again, we will be pushing hard to significantly expand the in-person educational opportunities available to our students.
Now, so much of this, Justin, the last thing I’ll say is there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to get through the tunnel. And the next two, three, four months are going to be challenging, but I’m asking all of us to keep our eyes on that goal that is now within reach, help us navigate winter successfully and help us turn spring term into one. That looks much more like the Dartmouth experience, that all of us value.
Joe, we have time for just one more question before we go to our guests. You know, we have at least several savvy listeners or viewers who picked up on your reference to Cornell and mentioned the fact that they were successful. Cornell was successful with low rates of COVID. Yet they had far more students back on campus. Why is that? And what can we learn? What can we learn from the experience of a place like Cornell?
Yeah … I think what we learn at a high level, Justin, is that frequent surveillance testing matters in matters a lot. I think being in a rural area matters and matters a lot to Cornell as well as to Dartmouth. It is true that Cornell was slightly lower than we are in terms of positivity rate. I will also point out that there are many, many, many institutions that had fewer students on campus than we did and had had much higher positivity rates. And so, we are looking to them, talking to them, I’m meeting with the Ivy League provosts weekly, to talk about lessons learned from one another, and that’s a relevant and important data point. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re increasing our testing frequency to twice per term in the winter term. And it’s also given us confidence in loosening some of the restrictions we had placed on student gatherings in the winter term. So, this is what we’ve learned from them. We’ve also learned to be cautious from institutions, as I said, that had fewer students on campus than we did then yet had much higher positivity rates.
So, thank you, Justin. Thanks all for the questions. And I’m of course, happy to continue to address these as they come in, either through you or by email or to the COVID task force over the course of the coming weeks. Let’s turn now for a few minutes to discussion with Lisa, Josh, and Kathryn, about some of the really important things I’ve alluded to in their areas and then open it up to the general audience.
Lisa, Kathryn, Josh, welcome back. You are our three most frequent visitors, and it seems entirely fitting to end the year where we began it with the three of you. Thanks for all the work you’ve done to enable us to reach this point and reach this point as well as we did.
Lisa, I want to start with you and note that not today, but earlier this week in the email announcement I sent out to campus, I indicated not just a change in winter term on campus arrival dates for undergraduate students, but I also announced a change in our arrival quarantine plan, which is something that you and the task force and the health-epi working group had strongly recommended. Can you tell us a little bit about the details and the reasons why you were comfortable compressing the quarantine period for returning students?
Certainly. I was so pleased to see that both the CDC and then the state of N.H. responded to the emerging data on the length of effective quarantine. Now, let me be clear that while the incubation period of the virus hasn’t changed and still can last up to 14 days, the vast majority of individuals who have contact with someone who has COVID or potential exposure through travel will develop symptoms by day 10 and the risk beyond that is quite low. So, an improved option now exists for reducing the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days, individuals should, of course still monitor themselves for symptoms for the full 14 days, but they no longer need to restrict their movements in the community. And now because of increased test availability and our understanding of just how sensitive PCR tests are, both the CDC and N.H. Health Department have endorsed ending, travel related quarantine even earlier, if a negative test result is obtained on or after day seven.
Now keep in mind, you do have to wait for that to receive that test result. And that may not be until day eight or even possibly day nine, but our students can really expect to end their arrival quarantine on or around day eight. Now both the CDC and state offer this option to shorten travel quarantine, but only the CDC allows us option for quarantine related to contact to someone with COVID. So, we’re following the state guidance here. And in that situation, our close contacts will have to quarantine for 14 days without this early test out option, but that’s still certainly better than 14 days. So, improvements being made there.
Thank you, Lisa. And that’s, you know, just to the, the question that Justin asked me, it’s strikes me as also directly relevant. This is a small step and an important step. And so, in the interest of student mental health to know that travel related quarantine has now gotten shorter by five, six, potentially seven days, I think is huge. So, thank you. So, so Josh, let me turn to you, but continuing on the theme of quarantine and isolation, I know that you’re making some changes to the management and operation of quarantine and isolation space in winter, based on what you learned in the fall. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What are we going to be doing differently?
Yeah, I mean, so quarantine and isolation are, as Lisa pointed out, it’s one of our key tools that we have to limit the spread on campus. And so, it’s something that’s going to continue to be around. We also know it’s really challenging for folks, particularly after that arrival quarantine, when maybe you’re quarantining and your friends or your peers are not. So, a couple of things, I think Lisa, we’ll talk more about this a little later on testing, but there’s some things we’re doing that will hopefully reduce the number of people that we have to put into isolation while we wait for test results. So hopefully there will be fewer people. So that’s, that’s the first piece. And then for those that do go into quarantine, oftentimes the timing can be off cycle. It can be later at night. So, we’re trying to make it a little bit more of a welcoming experience, making sure there are snacks and drinks and that the room is stocked for you and ready to go. So, it’s still probably not going to be the most fun experience, but hopefully, it will feel a little bit more welcoming and help with that transition.
Thank you, Josh. I appreciate that. And that’s good to hear and, and there too, I think these just these small improvements can make a huge difference in terms of how the students initially interact with quarantine and that plus potentially enabling it to be of shorter duration. I thank you both for the, the effort and the work to move on to this direction. Kathryn, I’d like to turn to you now and slightly different subject, but I know you’ve been, we’re often asked how are students providing input into the process? And I know you and your colleagues in student affairs have been consulting with students in many areas throughout the course of the fall term and getting their input on policy recommendations and decisions you needed to make. Could you give us a few examples where you sought student input or where their input helps shape some of the outcomes, even the ones that we’re talking about today?
Oh yes. We receive input from all the vectors, including in one-on-one conversations with students who come to my office hours. Palaeopitus, Student Assembly or the Dean of the college student advisory board. We meet with student leaders across campus and we’re of course we’re always, we’re constantly reading emails from students and parents, even if we aren’t able to respond to them all immediately.
I think some of the things that we’ve gotten in terms of the changes is that the student assembly and a group of UGAs were actually the ones that really lobbied for the change in the guest visitor access policy. They explained why it was challenging in ways that when we were looking at it from a public health perspective about making sure that if we had an outbreak in one residence hall, we’d want to keep it from getting to another one. And we were just thinking about it through the lens of public health, they were thinking about it more of a mental health perspective and wellbeing, which is what their role is, frankly.
And so, they were the ones who requested that we explore the changes to the guest visitor policy. We took three options for the guest visitor policy and we gave them to the student advisory board, which is a group of students who were selected, not because they’re members of any particular organization, but just so that they could give us sort of the student gut check response. So, they recommended the one that we actually landed on. They had thought through had very thoughtful reasons for why they select it and why they felt the one was the best.
They were the ones that felt like in order to protect the safety of the people, living in the security of the people, living in the residence halls, to be able to control the number of space that people in the building, and to be able to do better contact tracing, it would be actually better to not give people card access to other people’s buildings, but to actually have friends be required to let that person in that way, we can keep track of who’s going and coming better.
And that would also contribute to mental health and wellbeing, but it also helped protect the public safety of the community. We’ve also worked with various groups of students to find out which types of spaces that they would like to have open. One of the things that really surprised us is we were thinking they really wanted access to big social spaces. What we found is students really wanted places to study. And so, one of the things we’ve been working with facilities and with students is to figure out how can we open up buildings, everything classrooms, classroom spaces for students should be able to study, or perhaps for a couple of students to sit together and take their remote class, like with another person so that they can then talk about the ideas immediately once the class is over. And so, we’ll be working out those details.
And finally, we also talked about one that’s relatively important based on what you just said about how important testing is, is that last term there are a lot of students who are not complying with their TSA daily screening. And we found out from students that it was because we set the deadline at 9 a.m. And at 9 a.m., from the student perspective is like 2 a.m. And so, what we did is we just moved it to a 24-hour period and compliance went through the roof, and we’ve also worked with the student advisory board to try to set what is fair in terms of trying to set guidelines around to encourage students to comply with the twice a week testing because we, and they, recognize that it’s going to be more challenging to walk across campus and to go to their brand when it’s -12 degrees. So those are just a couple of things that we’ve talked to about them, but there are definitely others.
Great. Thank you, Kathryn. I think we have time and I’m going to turn to each of you for one last quick question, before we open it up outside. Lisa, I want to go back to you and just come back to the question of testing that we touched on briefly. We’re changing our testing protocol, both on arrival and through the term in different ways, but there’s actually some interesting and exciting developments that you’ve talked to me about over the course of the past week, where we are pushing into new territory to try and have much more rapid diagnostic capability to help us manage and coordinate student movement on the campus, over the course of the term. Could you tell us a little bit about what’s going on?
Sure. Happy to. So, you already mentioned to you that we will be continuing with our pre-arrival testing for domestic undergraduate students improved to be on campus, and now incorporating our graduate and professional students who will be away for winter break. So, they’ll receive instructions to receive a mail-in test at their home or where wherever they are about a week before they returned to campus. And that timing will allow them to receive the test, perform the test, send it off to the lab and get their result before they start their traveled back to campus. Now, when arriving back at Dartmouth, we are saying to everyone that your first stop should be Leverone, right? And the Dartmouth Coach will help accommodate that on the main days of the undergraduates are arriving just as it did in the fall and that will allow everyone to be tested really right when they arrive and we’re advising the graduate professional students to also come to Leverone as soon as they arrive in the Upper Valley.
But one potential difference to arrival testing that I’m excited about is that we’re looking at incorporating a rapid antigen test to be performed in addition to the standard PCR test when students arrive now, the advantage to this additional test, being that if we can receive a screening result in 15 to 30 minutes, that will allow us to quickly identify someone who may have COVID and arrange for them to begin isolating immediately, whether that’s on or off campus. Then we would do the more sensitive PCR test that will also be done on arrival as sort of our second line of defense to identify anyone who may have COVID on arrival, but really this incorporation of the rapid antigen test is, is I think a nice innovation that allows us to be able to do what we want to do, which is identify potential cases quickly.
So that is one of the new innovations that will be part we hope will be part of our arrival testing. And then as I already mentioned, we will have students tested twice a week. So that’ll be on day three. And then of course on day seven, so that they could potentially test out of their travel quarantine earlier. And then we’ll move to, as you mentioned, the twice weekly testing for students and for employees who are going to be regularly on campus. And I will just emphasize that testing really remains a critical part of our response for successful winter term. So, we need everyone to consistently adhere to this new, schedule. And then I will just mention very briefly, we also at Dick’s House have a new Cepheid rapid antigen machine that we have in our possession that we can use to test students who present with cold and flu like symptoms.
We expect that to happen quite a bit in the months of January and February. And this is very exciting because it will test for COVID, for two different strains of the flu, and for another respiratory virus. So, we really are excited because we think we can about that because we can have a diagnosis within about an hour and avoid perhaps having to move someone to isolation while they wait for their COVID test results. So again, a much-improved option for providing care. And we’re similarly looking at setting up a simpler option for our employees who may have symptoms with a drive-through option somewhere on campus. That would be a saliva-based test that they could actually collect in their cars right there on the spot. It would get sent to a lab and we’d have results from that quickly. So, some exciting new improvements that we think will improve the testing schedule and care of our symptomatic students and employees.
Great. Lisa, and just your comment about the flu diagnostics reminds me, I should use this opportunity to say to anyone who’s watching, if you’ve not yet gotten your flu shot, please do so. A reminder that we are expecting everyone who will be living or resident on campus unless there are health reasons that prevent you from doing so. We are expecting you to get a flu shot, to help protect your own health and the broader health of the community through winter term this year. It truly matters. We are very short on time before we open it up to questions. So, Kathryn, I’m going to ask you a question, and then Josh, I’m going to ask you to try and give me a 30-second answer. If you can, Kathryn, I wanted to ask you about winter carnival. I mentioned we’re expanding it but didn’t say anything about what it might be. Can you just give a little bit of a teaser of the kind of things you’re considering you and your colleagues and student life, OK?
For those who are already ready to embrace the winter, it could look like ice sculptures. It could look like snow. It could look like sledding on the Green. It could look ... we might not end up doing a human-dog-sledding. That’s a lot of close contact with people, and obviously, ice skating, like throughout the term. But we’re also thinking about for those who aren’t quite ready to embrace the winter to think about various months of wellness or months of the arts. And I think the most important thing that I can say is that send your suggestions in. We have a team of people who are, we’ll be reviewing this weekly. Our students know what the experience is that they want to have. We can come up with ideas until we’re blue in the face, and invariably their ideas are going to be better than ours. And so, send them to us and we will help you try to remove as much of the barriers to programming as possible, whether this is through the Office of Student Life or through the housing communities, we are here to help you co-create your experience.
Thank you, Kathryn. And that email address is WinterTermSuggestions2021@dartmouth.edu. And it will be released in writing. Josh, I’m going to give you the last question. And every time you joined us for one of these conversations, I have to ask you about the return of possessions that are in controlled storage student belongings. It’s the end of the year, but it seems we must continue the streak. So, I know we have some students who have not been on campus since March and they will be coming back in the middle of winter. How are we going to manage that process?
Yeah, so we’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how we can improve this process. We heard in the fall, if it took longer, the students were hoping in terms of being able to get access to those. So, we listened, we’ve tightened up our processes, and we’re going to shorten that window of time. And so, essentially students who are living on campus, as soon as you get your first negative PCR test. Um, so for most students that should be within about 24 hours or so, you’ll be able to start scheduling, appointments to go get your, your belongings. So, for most students, that means you’ll be able to start scheduling those slots on, on the Jan. 18, to start getting your belongings and those that have something critical for the first couple of days, if you need bedding or linens or something, we’re available to help. So really trying to tighten that process up and get people back with their belongings as soon as possible.
Great. That is wonderful and welcome news, Josh. One of my advisees has been asking me about that. He will be thrilled to hear that outcome. So, thank you for making that happen. Justin, back to you, we have a little over 10 minutes left and I’m sure there are questions for our guests.
There are. And, in fact, I’d like to stay with Josh because if there’s anything that’s more popular than questions about storage, it’s food. That’s probably the only thing that’s more popular than questions about storage. And there are some questions about food … a questioner is wondering whether or not the options will be increased and the hours more flexible? And also, and this is a good question, will students be able to eat together? If, for instance, they registered as a group, they left their names, which would enable contact tracing to be done more easily in the event that there, that was necessary?
Yeah. So, a couple of questions there Justin. The dining team is always looking for ways to improve the variety of quality, healthy options. I’ve continued to get updates from them on the menu. I think that a lot of students will find that there are some new and exciting things for the term to keep things interesting and delicious. In terms of flexibility around timing and being able to eat together, it’s going to depend on, on how the pandemic progresses and, and what we’re seeing in terms of rates. At the end of the last term, we actually had to switch back to all grab and go and no in-person dining, because we had started to see a spike of positive tests. So, we’re going to watch that really close. We’ve improved the system for the quarantine period in terms of how students will be able to get access to food during their quarantine. We’ll pay attention to this and, and our hope is that we’ll be able to provide more spaces for students to eat together and more locations on campus. But at this point, we really are going to have to watch the data and see what it tells us.
Lisa, if, if I could go to you in that last question, someone referenced contact tracing. Another question references the fact that the state of N.H. has said that they’re giving up on contact tracing due to the numbers and the volume and their inability to contact trace for all of the cases. The questioner then goes on, is Dartmouth still engaging in contact tracing on campus if a staff member or a community member tests positive? Will that person’s coworkers or social network, will they be contacted and notified of possible exposure? So, how are we handling that under the circumstances that face the state of N.H. being so taxed?
Great question. And the answer is absolutely. We are proceeding with contact tracing within our community. We’re fortunate to have the ability to do so. Our College Health Service, which has already been working in close collaboration with the state and oftentimes being the first ones to be able to identify roommates and notify roommates or other social contexts of our students about their need to quarantine, and assessing who is a contact, in the first place, they will continue to play that role in a more active manner. You may know, we have contracted with a third-party vendor, Axiom Medical, which is helping provide our occupational medicine services. And we have a contract and as part of their contract, they’re also performing the contact tracing again in collaboration with the state as much as possible, but they are really the ones overseeing the contact tracing activities for our employees.
Kathryn, if I could go to you, the next questioner writes in about the Class of ’24. And since the Class of 24, actually before the Class was ’24 even arrived, we talked about how this was not necessarily how they, or any of us expected that their Dartmouth experience would begin. This questioner asks once the pandemic is over, how are we thinking about promoting class cohesion and bonding for the Class of ’24? And this person has an idea, you know, what about some sort of mini-trips that might take place in the beginning of the fall? So how are, are you, as dean of the College, thinking about class cohesion for the ’24s given this most extraordinary of first years that they are having
Well, we’re thinking about, you know, a lot of different things. I think we’re waiting a little bit for, again, more for the data and the direction of the pandemic before we start to make plans about you know, late spring or summer. So, but that’s, that’s a good idea and we can hold onto that. I think there’s plenty of opportunities. The one thing that actually has really surprised me in my conversations with ’24s. In fact, I was speaking with a young woman today for about an hour or so ago, and it’s just how well they were able to connect under not the best of situations, frankly, and the fact that they turn were able to turn their new connections, probably that did start out on the Green, you know, playing Spike Ball or on those solo walks into real friendships.
And I’ve been so impressed by the resilience and the connectivity of our ’24s. And they have really leaned in. They’ve leaned into one another and they’re continuing. They continue to stay in contact even now at their home. And so, I think that’s really been wonderful, but, you know, we’ll work with them and we’ll work with some of our upper-class students in order to try to find out a way to continue to keep them together. I think them being able to be back as a class in the spring will be very helpful.
Josh, I’m going to go back to you, and I have to say it’s a treat to have you here because so many of the questions that we get week after week are questions that I think you probably have the most insight on, and this is definitely a question we get every week and hopefully, we won’t get it the next time you’re here. And that question is when will the gym be open?
For who? The gym is certainly going to be open in winter. We’re planning to have it ready to go for, for the winter term. We’re watching the latest guidelines and the course of the pandemic. As things improve, our hope is to open it up more to other members of the community, but, you know, our first priority is making the spaces that are available. As a reminder, we’ve deployed a lot of COVID-specific precautions in terms of spacing things out. So, it’s not kind of as free-flowing as, as it used to be. But as soon as we can, I mean, we’re certainly itching to open it up to more members of the community, but for, for now, for winter term, it will be open for, for students, once they are off their quarantine.
Lisa, the questioner asks, and I guess, first you can tell me if the premise of this question is right, and then if it is, you can enter the question. Can you speak to what appears to be a spike in positive cases since most of the students have departed?
Sure. We did see an uptake in cases in the last few weeks. But keep in mind too, that we do have graduate/professional students in our community. We have some students who are staying off-campus, who are still in the Upper Valley area. So, anyone, you know, those students, all of those students are still getting tested. So, we are still able to and will still receive those results and include those in our testing numbers. And of course, the employee community has stayed consistent. You know, we all know, and I know this was included in Joe’s community message, that we’re still sort of bracing to see what the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings may bring. But even right before Thanksgiving, we started to see some upticks. And I think that’s just an indication of the community transmission that we know is happening in Hanover, in the Upper Valley and Grafton County, and throughout the state of N.H., and of course, beyond.
Kathryn, I’m going to go to you for the last question, given the time we have left, and I think I’m going to end sort of where we started with the questions with Joe. And that’s the question about mental health, because as I said, that’s the theme that I’ve seen most today, from the questions that are being submitted. This questioner asks will there be any programming or increased opportunities to interact with mental health counselors for students during winter term? And then, you know, the person makes a suggestion that you know, will there be heat lamps made available, like any sort of extra efforts that are being made to sort of deal with the mental health pressures that students and all of us are facing right now?
That’s actually a really good point. I think one of the things that our wellness team is making sure that we get information out to students on the resources that we already have available. I think one of the concerns, and this is also a place where parents can help, frankly, is that we all tend to not think we need support until it’s too late until we really need support. And so, I would encourage people to be really proactive, and those can be things as in terms of managing your physiology, taking your vitamin D3. It’s not that we just all love ice skating and wanting to be outside, but it’s absolutely critical in Northern New Hampshire that you get out during the winter, and you experienced the sunshine when it’s available. There are happy lights, not really heat lamps, they are happy lights that help reset your circadian rhythms.
And we have a stock of those available at Dick’s House. We have recently hired two new counselors in our mental health services, and we’re going to be working with our directors, our student affairs directors, and all of our staff, just to be doing additional training on suicide prevention and mental health. We’re working with wellness to continue to roll out a number of practices and available resources that students will be able to access throughout their time here. So, we’re really committed to continue our efforts to make our mental health efforts to be integrated into the fabric of the campus.
Thanks, Kathryn. Experience the sunshine when it’s available. That is a fine message to close on. So, thank you for that. And thank you, Josh and Lisa, for visiting us yet again on Community Conversations as we head into the new year, I think we can guarantee that we will see you here again and we very much look forward to that. So, I’ll thank you once again, and I’ll go back to Joe. Joe?
Great. So, thank you, Justin, and Josh, Lisa, and Kathryn. Thanks again for joining us. Let me echo Justin’s comments. It’s been a pleasure to work with you and have you here this afternoon, and also in this forum many times, I think your comments have been illuminating and extraordinarily helpful for the community. And you can count on us asking you back again, early in the new year. This will be, as I said, our last Community Conversation for the calendar year 2020, we will be back in early January. Our current plan, in fact, is to be back on Wednesday, Jan. 6, with the first Community Conversation of the New Year, until then, let me say again, as openly and sincerely as I can: thank you to our staff, our faculty, to the local Hanover community, and to our students for your extraordinary efforts in helping us navigate in an unprecedented and challenging situation and deliver an educational program, research and teaching for all of our students this past year, whether they’re remote or resident in Hanover, it was not easy. And you rose to the challenge in ways that are inspiring. So, thank you. Have a well-deserved holiday break, everyone. Stay healthy, be well. And I look forward to being back with you in early January. Take care.