Welcome, everyone, and good afternoon. This is our 20th Community Conversation, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost at Dartmouth College joining you today as always from the Star Instructional Studio in Berry Library on a lightly snowy Thursday afternoon, January 21st of 2021. I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio on campus. We’re joined today by three of my colleagues, Michael Wooten, associate dean of residential life and director of residential education, who’s been at Dartmouth working with students for nine years. Dr. Ann Bracken MD, a member of the Geisel School of Medicine faculty and director of clinical medical services at Dick’s House, Dartmouth’s Campus Health Service, a position she has held for the past eight years. And Mitch Davis, vice president for information technology and consulting, or ITC, and Dartmouth chief information officer. Mitch has been leading ITC at Dartmouth since 2017.
We’ll follow our regular format today with a brief campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Ann, Mike, and Mitch about working plans in their areas, and then ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly. Today, January 21st, marks the start of the third week of winter term classes for undergraduate, graduate, and fair students. Most Tuck and Geisel students are nearing the end of their third week of classes as well. Academic work is therefore well underway this term with 868 total sections being offered to undergraduate students. This is noteworthy and that this is exactly the number offered, 868, in last year’s pre-pandemic winter term, and almost exactly the number, in fact, it was 867, that were offered in winter term of 2019.
We’ve said from the beginning that the community health and safety and educational continuity for all of our students were our primary goals. And these numbers are a great indication, as we start the term, that the work of our faculty and our staff in support of our students remains and has remained at the center of our focus. Undergraduate students who are living on campus completed their move into residence halls this past weekend. Although the campus is still fairly quiet since on-campus undergraduate students are completing their arrival week quarantine, there are slowly increasing signs of activity. For me, those are a welcome start to the new year. It is a new year that thus far has seen the classes that I mentioned and classes at all levels in all of our schools and programs get off to a fairly uneventful start, exactly what we had hoped to see. In that spirit, today I have only a few news updates on testing and operations before we turn to your questions.
So first let me start with testing. At the start of this month, we transitioned to a twice per week surveillance testing schedule for students and for all employees who are on campus regularly. Testing remains in Leverone through the end of this week, a reminder to our community that testing will move to Thompson Arena effective 7:30 a.m. this Monday morning, January 25, and we’ll remain in Thompson throughout winter term. This move, and a new floor plan for testing will allow for more students and staff to be indoors as we all move through the queue awaiting our test in the morning or in the afternoon on weekdays. Twice per week, testing is expected to be done with three weekdays in between, meaning testing is ideally completed on either a Monday-Thursday schedule or a Tuesday-Friday testing schedule.
Now, I cannot say this often enough, for those of us in Hanover, employees and students alike, regular surveillance testing is an essential part of our effort to support campus and community health. To keep our campus and our facilities operating as normally as we can in COVID times, it was an essential part in our strategy to keep the campus successfully open through fall term, it remains so as we look at head to winter term and spring term beyond. Testing, masking, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, hand-washing, completing the daily TSA symptoms check, all of it matters, all of it is essential.
Now, let me give you a quick update on how things are going thus far in winter term. As of yesterday, we had conducted more than 78,000 tests with 12,000 of them over the past two weeks alone, a testing frequency that is, as expected, more than twice as high as it was over the previous month. There’ve been a total of 27 positive tests in that period through yesterday, a positivity of 0.22%, a level that has remained steady throughout this two week period. This level, this 0.22% positivity level, remains low relative to the surrounding area, and the surrounding area remains low relative to the rest as to the region. Grafton County, our local county, now has an overall positivity, since the beginning of testing, of 1.1% and a current time period positivity of 1.9% according to data on the new hampshire.gov COVID 19 dashboard. The current level is higher than it was last year, but it remains the lowest level of any county in the state of New Hampshire.
Over the course of the fall term, in addition to comparing to local and county data, I regularly commented on the level of positive tests seen at NESCAC liberal arts colleges and universities across New England as a relevant comparison, a set of data points for us to keep in mind as we look at our own operations. Nearly all NESCAC schools are not bringing students back to campus until the beginning of February, so we won’t have meaningful testing data to review until about a month from now. And when those data become available, I will be reporting them at community conversations gatherings. Five of our Ivy peers however either had undergraduate students return to their campus over the past 10 days or they have them returning now, this week. Those peer universities are reporting overall positive test percentages of 0.2% to 1.2%. Now, this comparison tells us that thus far, and as in the fall, Dartmouth remains within the lower end of the range seen by our peers.
In terms of campus operations, I’m pleased to report that nothing has changed. We’ve remained at the limited access or light green stage, the middle stage in the five phase reopening plan that remains posted on the on-campus life section of our Dartmouth together COVID 19 public website. Under these conditions, which were in effect throughout the fall term, those who can work remotely should continue to do so. I’m noting this because of the message I sent to returning students into the campus last week, reminding us all that should conditions change we may need to move to more restrictive operating conditions at any point in the term.
Now, as I said last week, a move to more restrictive conditions is not imminent. And I need to stress that, a move to more restrictive conditions is not imminent. But we are monitoring campus and local conditions and trends constantly, and there is, of course, no guarantee that conditions will not change over the course of the winter term. One of the trends that we do watch carefully, in addition to campus and local data, is the trend in national level data. In here, trends the past few days have finally offered some hopeful signs, a welcome contrast to what we were seeing the beginning of last week, even at the point where I sent my message to the campus community. Based on data reported on the New York Times coronavirus website, as of this morning, my observation is that these past four days represent the first four consecutive day stretch since the very end of November that has seen new case counts drop below 200,000 new cases each day across the United States.
I want to be clear in that 200,000 new cases per day is still a staggeringly high level, but this marker is a hopeful sign that may be, just maybe we are passing the peak. We therefore remain on track to expand access to activities and to portions of the campus beginning early next week exactly as planned. Specifically, facilities will begin to open mid-day next Tuesday, January 26, as arrival quarantine comes to a close for most of our on campus students. Starting then, for students, and this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. But by example, the Collis Center will be open until late at night, every night. Baker-Berry Library and Novack will be open until midnight. Alumni Gym will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. till midnight on weekends for student access. Kemeny and Haldeman will be open from 5 to 10 p.m. on weeknights for students to go for a different place to study and gather as will the Black Family Visual Arts Center.
The Life Sciences Center will be open for the same purpose from 5 p.m. until midnight. And the Top of the Hop also open from 5 p.m. until midnight. Our outdoor activities and facilities will also be available starting next week. OPO and outdoor rentals will be ready to go in the (former) Hanover country club. And while the half inch of snow that we’re experiencing today may be all that we get for the next 10 days, there is certainly enough snow for sleds in tubes. I’ve seen cross-country skiers on the fields in the surrounding area making the best of what we have. Most trails on the Winslow side of the ski way are open, and the two skating rings on the green are nearly complete. I walked past them on my way over to the library today and with steady cold temperatures in the forecast for the next 10 days, they should be ready sometime in the next week. Adirondack chairs and a few fire pits are already set up surrounding the rings, I think the opportunities should be there for students to enjoy as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.
More details on all of this will be available through the engage.dartmouth.edu website. Now, for each of these spaces and for each of these activities, there are of course capacity limits. And all of the relevant outdoor or indoor COVID rules, including masking, continue to apply. But our goal is to give students more facilities to access, more opportunities to get out of their rooms, particularly in the evenings, to give the campus more of a sense of being a campus even as we continue to work our way through this part of the pandemic. And finally, as we’ve announced, we remain interested in your thoughts and ideas for things that we might also consider for winter term opportunities. This is a request not just to students, but it’s to students, to parents, to alumni, to faculty, to staff alike. Please send your thoughts and suggestions to the dedicated email address, wintertermsuggestions2021, that’s all one word, @dartmouth.edu. It’s still being monitored, and we encourage you to continue to submit suggestions for winter term activities.
Now, let me end by just saying a few words of where we are today in our planning, as we look ahead to the remainder of winter term and the terms that follow. I know that there are many questions on what comes next. Alumni have asked about reunions, and we hope to be able to make and announce decisions on those in the coming weeks. Students and their families have also asked about commencement plans. Well, it remains unlikely, unfortunately, that we will be in a position to hold the normal tightly packed ceremony on the Green. No decisions have been made, we will make an announcement as soon as we can and anticipate doing so before the start of spring term. In terms of spring term operations, right now, we continue to anticipate in terms of student numbers, that spring term will look like winter term just as winter term is looking like fall term. More information will be provided in the coming weeks as we move towards announcement of arrival plans for those students who will be here spring term and they’re not presently on campus.
Employees, particularly area managers, have asked about the status of budget planning for FY22, the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021. Internal conversations and discussions with the board of trustees are continuing and remain on track, with the board expected to review and approve the budget during their March meeting, which is the usual budget cycle. I’ve indicated that I hoped to have any revised area budget targets to area managers by the end of January, by the end of this month. That may be delayed by a week or two, but I do not anticipate it being any later than mid February, and the end of January still does remain possible.
So let me end there by stating the obvious. We have a busy term ahead, the challenges of COVID very much remain with us, and many decisions remain to be made around spring and summer terms, including finalization of the FY22 budget targets for all of the operating units of the college. But I remain optimistic given what I see around me in our student, faculty, staff, and local communities, our willingness to support one another, to put community health front and center in all of our actions, and to give all that we can to support the education of our students. Thank you to everyone contributing to the education of this remarkable community. Justin, let’s turn to you and see if there are any questions from our viewers this afternoon.
Thank you, Joe. Nice to see you, nice to be with you today. There are questions from our viewers today, and I’m going to start with one that is a reference to other schools and where Dartmouth fits. You mentioned in your opening remarks how Dartmouth compares to others in terms of positivity rates and testing. A viewer writes in: How do Dartmouth’s winter restrictions compare to other schools of Dartmouth size in Northern New England? I guess another way to think about this is, how does the Dartmouth experience this winter compared to peer schools that are bringing students back right now?
Justin, it’s a good question, and the answer is it’s a mix. There are campuses that are bringing back larger numbers of students than we are, there are campuses that are bringing back smaller numbers of students than we are. There are campuses that have more limitations on outdoor activity. I have to say I’ve been extraordinarily impressed by what our Student Affairs team has put in place around winter carnival, winter wonderland, winter outdoor activities, as a way to do what I’ve asked us to do, to think about embracing winter as a term that is what I’ve asked us to do to think about embracing winter as a term that is special to Dartmouth and has special meaning in so many ways. And when I look at what’s going up around campus and speak to my peers at other campuses, there is an area where Dartmouth has clearly gone above and beyond in trying to make the winter term an engaging experience for those who are here in ways that may even make it more memorable than a normal winter term.
And so in some areas, we have fewer opportunities. In others, we have many, many more. And I think for each of our campuses, each of our institutions, the decisions that we make strike a balance between our ability to support a residential population in a way that prioritizes community health, support a residential population in a way that acknowledges each of us has different residential ... and laboratory facilities. And each of those comes with their own air-flow systems and architectural design that put different limits on the number of people you can safely have in this space at any one point in time.
And so I’m very actually comfortable with where we are. I think the team has made great decisions about maximizing opportunity for Dartmouth students, taking maximum advantage of our outdoor setting, even in the winter, and doing everything that they can to provide the best possible experience for our students under, let’s face it, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, under challenging circumstances.
Joe, you just mentioned in that response and you’ve mentioned before on Community Conversations, our ability or your hope that we can embrace winter, which is something that we do regularly, but this year it’s going to be a little bit different. Yet we hope that there is still a way that the community can embrace winter. And to that point, a viewer writes in to ask about the increased outdoor activity that we have planned and when that can begin. When will the ice skating rink, weather permitting, which looks like it is, when will it be open? When will some of the things that Eric Ramsey talked about during the last Community Conversations, when will that be available to students and how can they find out what is available, what time, and how they can take advantage?
So, Tuesday, Jan. 26, just five days from now, we anticipate most, if not all of the outdoor facilities being open for student use. The engaged.dartmouth.edu website, I am told, will have more detail on operating hours and access to facilities. And I’d say, Justin, if you don’t mind, let’s put that question to Mike Wooten. In his role as director of residential education, he may have some additional thoughts on this, including thoughts on ways that organized activities can take place and take advantage of the space. But the answer to the question about date, Tuesday, Jan. 26, next week.
That’s great. So obviously we’ve put a lot of planning in to outdoor activities and we’ve talked a lot about that. You referenced this in the opening, your communication, letting folks know that, depending upon the progression of the pandemic and the virus, that more restrictions may be necessary. This is a question we got from student assembly that I want to share with you, because I think it’s on a lot of people’s minds regarding those restrictions and the possibility of them being opposed. Does Dartmouth anticipate that the new restrictions would be imposed gradually or all at once? And if the changes are made, how would they be announced and will there be an opportunity to ask for clarity before changes are imposed?
So how would they be announced? They’ll be announced by email, by posting on our website, through Community Conversations if the opportunity presents itself. How quickly would measures need to be imposed? That, unfortunately, is a question that I can only answer by saying it depends. If there is a rapid deterioration in local conditions, if there is a rapid spike in number of cases on campus, it’s a decision we would need to make that would curtail access to activities fairly quickly. It is our hope and desire to avoid that. We would like to be able to give people appropriate advanced notice, certainly of several days of conditions changing.
And I have to say, I can’t promise anything, but I am truly cautiously optimistic by what we are seeing in the state in terms of trends over the past several weeks, of what we are seeing nationally in trends over the past week, and the fact that our positivity rate has held steady over the past three weeks and has even declined a bit over the past few days. If these trends continue, we are in a good place to be able to continue to operate all of the facilities that we plan to operate throughout the winter term.
This depends upon a partnership with the community, with our faculty, staff, students, and local community. We need, and I cannot stress this enough, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, getting tested twice a week, surveillance testing matters, wearing masks, completing the TSA, and washing your hands, keeping a clean environment. All of these things have been shown over and over and over again to significantly reduce the rate of transmission in any captive environment and to prevent outbreaks from occurring. If we can do that as a community, I’m really confident we can make it through winter term and keep all of these outdoor activities open and available to our students.
Joe, I’m going to switch gears a little bit. Over the course of Community Conversations, you have talked at times, and we’ve had people on here at times to talk about the budget challenges and the possibility of layoffs. We’ve addressed that on Community Conversations and elsewhere. We haven’t talked about that on Community Conversations in a while. It is a question that comes up somewhat regularly and it’s come up today. Because we haven’t addressed it in a while, I wonder if you might say something about that and as to whether or not layoffs are anticipated. You pointed out that the budgeting process is under way. So it seems relevant to address that, to the extent we can.
Right. So Justin, that’s a good question. And here I want to offer a positive answer, but with the usual cautions. Our financial projections, our budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, FY21, make it clear that we will be able to end the year with balanced budget operations, the budget being balanced by the measures we have taken by having a hiring freeze in place, by not providing merit increases for faculty or staff this year, by significantly reducing non-compensation expenditures, and in some cases, by some of the employment adjustments that have been made, choices made by individual managers in different divisions to either have a small portion of the workforce on furlough or eliminate a few positions. Those have put us in a position where we will be able to finish the year with a balanced budget.
There is still tremendous uncertainty in the revenue and cost side of the remainder of FY21. If conditions worsen significantly and we end up having far fewer students on campus in the spring, if we need to ramp up our testing significantly beyond the twice a week because there is another major outbreak, or not another, but a major outbreak that occurs in the region or on campus. There are things that could create significant expense for the college. There are things that could reduce revenue. If those things don’t materialize, if the Dartmouth College Fund continues to meet projected budget targets, if we continue to raise money at the expected rate and what we’ve seen for the first six and a half months of this fiscal year, if the market performance remains roughly as strong as it has been, then we will be in a position where there will be no need for additional job action over the course of this year.
And so if you ask me directly do I anticipate additional job loss over the course of this year, the answer is no. And the measures that I have been discussing with the deans and with the leadership of the institution for budget adjustments and FY22 and beyond, I am anticipating having more to say about those in about a month, but most of the job action that’s been taken and perhaps all of the job action that’s been taken to date will be the job action that we need to take. And so stay tuned. There may be some more adjustments in FY22, but I anticipate that those will be minimal.
Thanks for addressing that, Joe. As we both know, that is a question that we get often, and we know that it is on a lot of people’s minds. So appreciate you being able to expand on it a little bit. We have time for one more question, and I’m going to ask a question. It’s possible that we may want to redirect this to one of our guests, but I’m going to throw it to you for starters. We have been talking about all the outdoor activities that we have planned, and certainly our hope that they can continue. But with the focus on those kinds of activities, a viewer writes in and asks how we’re thinking about indoor activities, particularly as we read about new variants of the virus that are more contagious and whether or not some of our indoor activities may have to be curtailed because of the importance of de-densifying and maintaining the appropriate physical distance. So are we thinking about whether or not it might simply be too risky to be indoors in any sort of significant number?
So that’s a really insightful question, Justin, and it’s an important one. And as I think you know, as anyone who’s been following this closely knows, there are projections that some of the variants will in fact be the dominant strain in the United States by the end of March, perhaps a little bit later. So this is something we’re certainly very attentive to. What does that mean? Here, we are looking for guidance from public health officials, from the CDC, from federal and state authorities. It may be that, for example, we are advised at 6 feet of social distancing indoors is no longer sufficient and we need to move to 10 feet, or we need to reduce the amount of time that people are present in one another’s company at 6 foot social distances. So what this may mean is adjustments in room capacity. It may mean that we need to restrict access to some rooms.
We simply don’t know. There is not enough known at this point in time for me to give anything near a definitive answer there. But what I can say is that the viewer asks very astute question. It is something that we are discussing in monitoring. And so we do know where we would need to adjust capacity limits in different spaces or where we might, in fact, even needs to restrict access to spaces. But here I’d say, as I’ve said in so much of this over the past 10 months, the best thing we can do is take this a day at a time. We monitor conditions constantly. We look to the federal government and the state government for guidance. We are in constant contact with the state of New Hampshire chief epidemiologist and other public health officials from New Hampshire and our colleagues at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, and also medical community members at other colleges and universities. We exchange information with our peers constantly at all levels, presidents, provost, EVP, deans of the college. Everyone is very openly sharing information about operations, about their modeling, and about what they are seeing emerging on their campuses.
And so we are going to watch this closely. It may mean some adjustments. Perhaps it would mean we have to adjust access to indoor spaces, but make no changes to access to outdoor spaces. We simply don’t know. But we will be making these decisions step wise in sequence driven by public health guidance and driven by the data and the information that we have. That’s the best answer I can give at this point in time. And that I will say to you, Justin is a question that may be worth bringing back in another Community Conversation two or four or six weeks down the road when we know a little bit more about how the new variants, the new strains are progressing across the country.
So let me use that as a pivot point and turn to our guests. Thank you, Justin, for the questions. Thanks to those who wrote in with questions. And Mike and Mitch, great to have you with us. Ann and Mike, welcome back to Community Conversations. You joined us at the very beginning of fall term. It seems fitting to have you back at the start of winter term. And Mitch is our chief information officer. This is your first time here, but I’m pleased to have you because many colleagues around campus have noted to me that ITC has been central in keeping the campus operating and contributing to our students’ education in so many ways. And it’s an opportunity for us to talk to you about some of the extraordinary work your team’s done.
So Ann, I’d like to start with you if I may. And as I said, you were with us early in fall term, but there are going to be students in particular and also families watching today who weren’t with us then. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you to start just by very briefly describing your role as director of clinical medical services, as head of Dick’s House. And what does that entail in terms of supporting the health of the community? Not just COVID, but more broadly.
Right. Well, thank you, Joe, for inviting me back. And I really appreciate how attentive you’ve been to the health and wellbeing of the students, in particularly following the local numbers, the community numbers, the national numbers. We really appreciate that. So at Dick’s House, I sort of shepherd the medical arm of Dick’s House. We also have counseling services here. And on the medical side, we have doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, medical assistants. We have a practice manager, we have an X-ray tech, and we have an appointment office. We provide both tele-health and in-person services.
And things have changed in terms of providing more telehealth, but we never closed during the whole pandemic, and we continue to offer in-person services. When students are on their travel quarantine, we don’t have them come into the building, so we provide telehealth services during that week. If they’re sick, we have another space to evaluate symptomatic students, which is right next door in Billingsley. For our normal services, we provide acute and chronic health care services for students. We provide preventive healthcare services. We do a lot of reproductive and sexual health services. We put in IUDs. We’re still doing those things now. We do a lot of STD testing. We have transgender care. We do do sports medicine and evaluations for injuries. We have physical therapy services here. We do lots of mental health care, both within primary care and within the counseling department. We do a lot of work related to anxiety and depression, and that’s particularly prevalent now, while people are isolated and struggling with the pandemic.
We have a pharmacy here, and this week, when the undergraduates have come back, we are doing a lot of curbside delivery. So the pharmacist or their assistant will come out and deliver medications that students need to their car or outside the building. We have a lab here, and we have X-ray technology. We do EKGs.
A lot of our services are free with their care when they are an enrolled student. So it doesn’t engage their health insurance, and they can come in. There’s not charges for a lot of the things that we do, including x-rays and many lab services that we have. We have an allergy clinic. We provide nutrition services, and then we’re doing this pandemic COVID management, too, which is a new. We actually started last January, when things started to happen in terms of screening.
We now have a new module for our electronic medical record, which is related to contact tracing and identifying all of the cases, so cases and their contacts, and being in touch with all those students. We have followed 700 students since the start of this, since we had this contract tracing module, which we really got in the summertime. That allows us to send surveys to all the students in isolation and quarantine every day. Our nurses are checking in with all of these students, and we have currently 45 active cases. Some of them are even away. They’re not even on campus yet. We have 12 active cases and 21 people in quarantine locally, so on campus and locally, and then other students further away.
I mentioned that we have this site in Billingsley where we can do testing, and we have PCR testing available that we can run through DHMC. It’s an anterior nares swab. We also got a new machine called a Cepheid machine, which is a PCR machine. We can do a rapid test, a PCR test, which is very helpful for students who are residential.
Then if they’re symptomatic, we can say, “Okay, you’re going to go back to your dorm,” whether they are ... students, residential, or undergraduate residential, or that we send them to isolation housing.
Right. That’s new this term, right?
That’s new. We’re so excited about our Cepheid machine. ... Then one other thing I wanted to mention is that we have close partnerships with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. So any medical issue, we’ve always had those close partnerships, and related to COVID in particular, we have access to that. We know that currently there are 19 patients with COVID at DHMC, 10 on ventilators. We get active reporting related to that, and we’re paying attention to what’s going on. We have the resources from the infectious disease department, too.
Right. That’s great. Thank you, Ann. One of the things you mentioned there, I think it was absolutely worth highlighting how wonderful it has been for us to have this partnership with DHMC, with a major academic medical center right in our backyard, and, of course, the clinicians all have faculty appointments at Geisel. The CEO is a Dartmouth alum. The network of connections is very tight, and they’ve been extraordinarily supportive to us, not just in providing healthcare, but in helping us in our planning. So thank you for calling that out.
So Mike, I’d like to turn to you now with a question about the onboarding or on-campus arrival process. You joined us early in September, right after students had arrived. I remember seeing you riding your bike around campus on move-in day, checking in on them. I don’t know if you did that again this weekend. The weather was a little colder and sloppy. So I was not out walking around the campus, but maybe you were still there on your bike. Here we are again, less than a week after the students have arrived. How are things going? What was different this time?
Yeah. Well, first of all, to the team, Joe, thank you for having me. It’s always great to be on this call and to see all my great colleagues and the amazing things that people are doing. Just to listen to Ann, I feel like I never quite do enough when I hear her explain some crazy things that are going on in that corner of campus. So a big thank you to folks.
The weekend, it is wonderful to have students back. I say this in the fall. Students are the reason for the season, that they are the reason that we do what we do, all of us, on a call like this, whether it’s in the classroom or in the residence halls to all the opportunities on campus. It is always wonderful to have students back. The interim is too long. So it was great to have them here with a little bit of a delay for all the good reasons that we created it for.
I have to say that there were not many surprises. Students arrived when they were supposed to arrive. Ann’s amazing team did all that they were meant to do in supporting students that needed support upon arrival. Students were tested. They picked up a key at Leverone. They went straight to their residence halls. They closed their doors. Dining has been doing an amazing job at getting them food. Here we are, and we’re eager to be out of quarantine so that we can enjoy the outdoors and enjoy seeing each other more in person as we move through this term.
Great. Thanks. So I’m going to come back to you in a minute, because I want to ask you about something I teed up earlier about the residential education part of your role, because I’m interested in hearing a little bit more about how you will be using the facilities that we’re making available to engage students. But I’m teeing that up. I’m going to turn to Mitch for a question. Then I’m going to come back to you, Mike, with that.
So Mitch, if I may, this is, as I said, your first time with us, and I think everyone at sort of a visceral level recognizes that ITC is core to everything we’ve been doing, the overnight pivot back in March to remote delivery of content to keeping our communities connected to researchers who are far afield and certainly all of our staff, our employees and faculty, who are working from home. You’ve played a central role in deploying tools, software, hardware, and advice to help make that all happen and done it extraordinarily well.
But I think we may think of ITC as the folks that help us make Zoom work and keep the campus going. What I think a lot of people don’t recognize is that you are involved in so much more than that, things you’ve had to do, for example, with dining services to facilitate the transition to COVID operations or deploying hotspots around campus over the course of the summer. So if you don’t mind, just take a minute or two and give our community a sense of the kinds of different projects that your team had to leap into and make happen to keep the business of the college going.
Well, I think initially what I’d talk about is how we got to the place where sort of mentally we were in the right space is we work with a lot of students, a lot of faculty, and also alums. In the beginning of COVID, we were talking about, How are we going to help people survive this? An alum said to me, he said, Instead of surviving, why don’t you flip the narrative on that? How are you going to help people thrive through this? How are you going to help Dartmouth come out of this stronger than when it went in?
So our approach has always been not to just help people get by, but to do something exceptional with where we are, because one of the things that I’ve noticed at Dartmouth, when people said Dartmouth couldn’t turn on a dime, well, it did. So that said to me the idea of one Dartmouth really came together over COVID. We all just dropped our barriers and said, What do we need to do to get back to our mission? What do we need to do to get back to who we are as an institution and as an organization? So that’s how we sort of focused what we did, and I can just ask Ann. We work with Ann on providing that information that she needs to be able to make those decisions. Ann, you can talk quickly about that, if you want.
Oh, the ITC has been amazing with the dashboard. We’ve been working with Dave Bebo and Craig and Mike. Joe, you’re going to be so excited to have access to the dashboard information, which is not confidential. It’s aggregated kind of information, but it’s been super helpful in terms of making sure that students can then come off their quarantine phase one and get their results. So it’s been really helpful, and looking at the data, too. So we really appreciate all that work. Yeah.
Then Justin has the same thing. We’re redoing the website. We’re making it not just billable to Justin, but across the board. The problem is everything now is online. So what is IT doing? IT is going and working with people, making it easier for them to move that information online so they can communicate with their constituents, with teachers, students, and move that board. Individually, I think what we wanted to do is to be adaptive. Faculty are in very different places in how they teach and what they’re doing and what technologies they wanted to use. So we didn’t want to come up with one model fits all. So we came up with this way of adjusting to instructional designers and the service center, is make a call, tell us what you want to do, and we will help you get there. So across the board, whether it’s dining and wanting to put their menus up, what we wanted to do is to help people do their jobs in a way that let them thrive. We’re always looking to provide consulting, but the technology and the information necessary to make that happen.
So let me ask you two follow-up questions. So I’m not going to let this dining question go, because I think it’s just ... At least for me, it was something that most of us don’t think about when we think about ITC. So just take 30 seconds to talk about what your team did with dining, both with menus, and I understand it may have been how payment is processed or how card swipes are done. Maybe I have that wrong.
I mean, there was stuff that we didn’t do that we talked about doing that we tested. Some of that was we were thinking about, going back to contact tracing, we could actually take pictures of everything, follow people, do all this stuff.
No, thank you.
... what we did do is that the way dining delivered their meal plans and all that had to change. So we made those changes with them quickly. In fact, there’s changes still coming out that sort of take that, what we did, and take it to the next level and make it even better for the students. Whether that’s in campus services or campus security, we’re there with them, helping them sort of navigate where we are, but also where we’re going. Most of the stuff we’re doing and how we’re working is I can’t see it leaving when we’re done. It’s not like we’re going back. We’re taking all of this and going forward, which is exciting for me.
That’s great, Mitch. Just listening to you saying this, it’s exactly the reaction I had. All the things you’re talking about are things that we will want to keep embedded as part of our system. So when people ask me, How will Dartmouth be different coming out of the pandemic? here are great examples of ways that we fostered connectivity and collaboration through IT systems that we certainly hope will persist as we move forward and come back to full residential operation. So we’re running short on time before I turn to Justin, so I want to ask two quick questions, one of Mike and one of Ann. Then we’ll turn it to Justin to see what’s coming in from the outside.
So Mike, I want to come back to the question I teed up for you. So you’re director of residential education. We’re putting these great facilities indoors and outdoors at your disposal. What kind of things can students expect? What do you have in mind for the winter term?
Yes. So it’s a great question. The idea of residential education is that how we live together has an impact on how we think together. That’s what makes a four-year residential campus special, is that we live together in a very particular way. So that’s been both disrupted by COVID, but as we’ve stated in these conversations from the beginning of the pandemic, there are opportunities for us to come together in new ways. So the ice rinks on the grain, the sledding, the skiing, and the many other things that are available to students beginning on Tuesday.
In fact, a great place to look at that is both the engage webpage that will have the events, but the facilities hours can be found on the Office of Student Life’s webpage. So if you’re looking for where and when things are open, look on the Office of Student Life’s webpage. They’ll have information about that.
But there are a few ways that students can expect to engage those facilities. One is they can help us determine what happens within those facilities and in those places. What makes programming at Dartmouth special, like on any college campus like ours, is that it’s by students and for students. So we welcome students back, and there is much that’s already been prepared, but much of that is a sandbox for our students to help us plan what they would like to do in these special locations that we have designated for them to be active outside and inside, so being a part of their house council, writing to Student Assembly, being a part of the many places, giving suggestions, again, to the amazing people in Student Life that have helped prepare these locations for students to have access to what is best about Dartmouth.
They can come with their ideas. Some of them have already been curated, and some of them are yet to be curated because we’re waiting for you to tell us what would be special during the winter outside and inside of our facilities.
All right. Thank you. So Ann, let me turn to you for the last question, and I ask you to just be brief. But I can’t let you get away without asking you, what are you seeing in the testing today, and how is it different than what we saw in fall term?
Well, the testing has been amazing. As you recall, we started out with a little tent just outside Dick’s House, transitioned to a larger tent, then moved over to Leverone. We’ve done over 55,000 tests on the students, and that represents over 5,200 students, which is 75% of the student population has been engaged in the surveillance testing. The surveillance testing is for asymptomatic students. We’ve also done the pre-arrival testing. The pre-arrival testing was through a company called Vault, and early on in the fall pre-arrival, we had five positive cases. Pre-arrival this time, we had 22 positive cases. Then we do the symptomatic testing. The symptomatic testing, we’re doing here I mentioned through the DHMC lab, and then the Cepheid, and we’ve done over 800 tests here at Dick’s House.
The testing, so as you mentioned, in the fall, we were doing once a week surveillance testing. Now we’ve bumped it up to twice a week, and that’s really responding to what’s going on in the country and locally, too. We saw a bump in transmission towards Thanksgiving, and that actually persisted through the holidays. We had a number of graduate students who were either in quarantine for contact or had COVID. We had a little bump again when the graduate students came back to the Upper Valley with their travel quarantine.
So we expect that with the undergraduates, we’ll see a bump again. So far, we’ve only had five undergrads test positive since the arrival, which is surprisingly low, and we’re crossing our fingers that that persists. We do expect from travel that people might test positive between day two and day five, so we’re really hoping to get to the end zone of day seven for that testing. One other thing, we have had over 200 students test positive for COVID, either here or away. And so students who’ve tested positive within the last 90 days don’t participate in surveillance testing, because there’s a chance they shed some RNA fragment and have a positive PCR test. The CDC and New Hampshire recommend not testing, surveillance testing, during that 90-day window. We’ve already had 40-plus students move out of that 90-day window, so they had COVID long ago, so long ago, 90 days or plus, so they’re back in the surveillance screening.
The other thing is vaccination. So, our Geisel medical students are considered frontline providers in terms of being front and center with patients, and they’ve started getting vaccinations. DHMC is providing the vaccinations for the Geisel students. They’re getting vaccinated here at Dick’s House, but it’s through DHMC, because of their work at DHMC. Vaccination’s going to be another piece of this story. Our providers have gotten vaccinated partially, and are going to continue to get vaccinated. Most of us will be finished vaccinated, or vaccination series, which is a two-part series, by the end of this month.
We will continue to do surveillance testing and screening, everyone who’s vaccinated. It’s just those people who’ve been positive in the past 90 days who don’t do the surveillance screening. But anybody who’s symptomatic, we will be testing. Whether they’ve been vaccinated, or in that 90 day window. Lots of testing going on, and we want to encourage any student who has any symptoms to call us. 24/7, we have nurses available to do assessments and we can test people.
That’s great. Thank you, Ann. And the high level takeaway message is it’s complicated, different populations have different requirements, and your team is totally on top of it, so thank you. That’s great to hear.
Justin, let me turn it over to you and see what kind of questions you and our viewers might have for Mitch and Mike this afternoon.
Thanks, Joe. I’m going to start with Mitch. Because this question was asked specifically about the student population, but I know it applies to me, and I think it probably applies to all of our viewers. What are you doing? What can you do about Zoom fatigue?
We are all listening closely, Mitch.
When you have the option, is move away from your computer and take some time to do something other than stay on it. Get outside, do anything you can to get away from a screen, if you have the opportunity. Even if it’s five minutes. One of the things I do, and this is just I have a set workout that I can do in five to six minutes, which includes a row and everything, and during a break is one, don’t set your meetings hour to hour. Split them up through the day. Put in 15 minute breaks. Some people have complained to me, Why are your meetings starting 15 minutes after the hour? All my meetings are scheduled. I said, It still goes 45 minutes. Oh, you gave me 15 minutes of freedom. I said, Yes, 15 minutes of freedom. Now, use it wisely. It’s only 15 minutes. I would say the free time you have, make use of it.
In addition to that, which it’s obviously important, Mitch, are there other technologies, are there other ways in which you’re thinking about connecting?
Oh, yeah, yeah. OK, we’re actually doing that. There’s two professors, Caroline Robinson, and Marissa Palucis. I think that’s how you say. Palucis, yeah. They’re using VR. We actually have a dev studio that was a research lab for people using virtual reality, and augmented reality, and so Caroline has a research project where she needs to get information in these VR sites, so she was wondering how she was going to continue her research because it had to be done in this lab. Well, we have somebody in the lab when we had these goggles, sitting there, and we ordered a few more, and they’re all being sent out to the students and they’re going to do this research in VR.
Marissa works on the Mars Lander team, and she has all this topography information about Mars. We’re able to draw that into a Unity game engine, and people can go walk around and look at Mars as it actually is. In fact, it’s interesting. You can talk to people, because I went out there, but of course I wanted to go wander around, so I actually got lost on the surface of the moon. I think the creative thing is what we’ve done is we’ve infused the campus with all this technology and now the faculty are getting very comfortable with it, and the cool thing is the nexus for innovation is when you take a tool and align it with knowledge, and right now it’s starting to connect in ways where faculty are saying, I don’t want a classroom where you control it. I want a classroom where I control it. I know how to use Zoom, I know how to use this tool now, I don’t need somebody in my classroom any longer to tell me how to do that. What I want to do is I need a classroom respond to me.
We’re looking at how we’re designing classrooms. Now we’re coming up with this OpenAV solution, working with Mark over in Thayer to basically create a classroom solution that’s somewhat malleable. We can change it per faculty and maybe it can remember how the room was set up as the faculty came in. Options for the future I think are off the table, as these tools get into faculty hands and that nexus comes to fruition and starts delivering solutions that we never would have done at Dartmouth, and that goes back to that whole thriving thing. It’s very exciting times, I think. I know that I’m supposed to be depressed, but [crosstalk 00:54:20] working with students and working with faculty and just seeing the innovation that’s happening at Dartmouth is very exciting.
Mitch, you’re definitely not supposed to be depressed. Don’t change. Don’t change that outlook. Ann, if I could go to you-
It seems like if people aren’t talking about how they can get off of Zoom, they’re talking about how they can get a vaccine or when they’re going to get a vaccine. And we have someone who’s written in, and this is a question that has come up in the past. Are we talking to the state about getting vaccines? And will students who are here, on campus, who don’t live necessarily in New Hampshire, if they’re residents elsewhere, will they have access to the vaccine from the state of New Hampshire, or is that going to be a challenge or something that we’re going to have to contend with?
It’s going to be a challenge but we’re actively working on this. We’re having conversations with the state very regularly. We have been able to get the students vaccinated, and actually some of the undergraduate students who are the Dartmouth EMS, some of the ski patrol, they’ve been able to fit in the category of a frontline health care worker. As of the 22nd, tomorrow, people in the state of New Hampshire who are 65 and over are eligible to register for the vaccine. In addition, people younger than that age who have two chronic health conditions, may also be eligible.
So, we’re actively working on ... There’s a medical report form that we’ve already started doing for some of our students and we’re trying to sort out the residency issue. That is more of a, the governor has said it needs to be New Hampshire residents, and we’re trying to sort out ... The students have been considered residents in terms of voting, and then also being counted in the census, so I think this is an ongoing discussion about how do we define a resident? But we’re really working hard to have vaccine available. First to the vulnerable populations and then to all students. And the employees, as well.
Ann, if I can stay with you.
You mentioned earlier how much you’re using telehealth. And so honestly, I don’t know to what extent that was something that you used pre-COVID, but my question is more about post-COVID. Is that something that may continue beyond COVID? And the questioner asks specifically about mental health counseling which is something that historically we have had a lot of demand for and have been trying to ... We’re always trying to meet that demand. The questioner asks about whether or not telehealth may continue, particularly in that area post-COVID.
We were planning our telehealth pre-COVID, and then were able to implement pretty quickly. It will definitely continue in primary care, and in counseling, as well. There are some rules related to counseling in terms of providing services within a state and outside a state so we have to ... The counseling has to abide by those rules. We continue to provide telehealth services, both within our state and out of state. My guess is the federal government will continue to allow that as something that is approved way to deliver healthcare. We anticipate we will continue to use it, and students really like it. Some students want to come in and be seen, but a number of students really prefer because it’s very quick and they can stay where they are and they don’t have to travel.
Mike, I didn’t forget about you. I’m going to come to you for the last question, and we’ve spent so much time talking about getting ready for winter term, beginning winter term, how’s it going in winter term, but believe it or not there are several questions here about spring term, and when people will be able to arrive and what is spring term going to look like? Realizing that you don’t have a crystal ball, because I know people, particularly people who aren’t on campus now and are looking forward to spring term, it’s top of mind for them, which is probably why we’re getting numerous questions on that. So, if there’s anything you can say about spring term, that would be appreciated.
Sure. Yeah, this has been happening really since the beginning of our modified operations, which is people have lots of questions about when they can return to campus. Usually they’re asking about the following term, the term to come. And as Joe has already mentioned, we of course plan on having students back in the spring. We are waiting to see the conditions and what is the capacity of our spaces in light of what the conditions are. It’s hard to imagine having less than we have now, on campus, but it’s hard to say what the spring will look like both thinking about what Ann just mentioned about the vaccine, about where the virus is both locally and nationally, and so we’re really ... We watch that carefully.
Information always comes out. Students can expect to see information about housing coming to them, students who have been approved to be on the spring will soon be receiving information asking them about their plans, so that we can start to fill our available beds. And then we’ll track that with what is the recommendations from our amazing colleagues here at the college, the Health and Epi team, about what our capacity is. I think it’s only going to be easier as the weather transitions, as we have more opportunities to be active and to be outside. So, we’re hopeful that the spring will be the continuation of positive pivots for the college, but as you know, it’s a process of waiting to see, as well.
Well, yes indeed, we are hopeful, Mike. That’s a great way to wrap up this really interesting conversation. Thanks to you, Mike, as well as to Ann, and to Mitch. I’m sure we’ll have all three of you back at some point soon. But thank you very much for today. Joe, I’m going to go back to you to say goodbye.
Thank you, Justin. Good to see you, and Mitch, Ann, and Mike, let me add my thanks for the discussion and your insight and input, and also to each of you for the work that you and your team are doing. It is, I can’t say this often enough, essential to what has made campus operations so successful and the support of our students so successful thus far. Deeply appreciated what you do. And let me just end by saying it’s ... You said hopeful. I will say in addition to being hopeful, I’m optimistic where I sit today. And I’m more optimistic than I was even a month ago. The federal government is now beginning to provide guidance and support that our communities need. Uniform masking guidance is being provided. We are focusing on accelerating the distribution of vaccines, and I’ve heard there’s a commitment to providing transparent data and science from the CDC, that we can all use.
We have low positive test rates here over the first three weeks of January. Low and declining rates regionally, and the piece of information that for me was most exciting is to see over the past four days nationally, there has been a decline in positive test rates. All of this is early stage, but all of it gives me cause for optimism. We have a community that has embraced the measures throughout, that we need to embrace, to keep the campus and keep the surrounding community safe, and we had no major outbreaks through the fall or early part of the winter. I will simply say to the campus, thank you, keep it up. Your effort has been extraordinary and if we can continue down this path, I am confident that we will have a successful winter term that will lead us into an even more successful spring term. Have a great start to winter term, everyone.
I look forward to seeing some of you out on the skating rink and out and about on campus when the facilities open next week, and we look forward to seeing you again at the next community conversation in two weeks on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Take care, everyone, and we’ll see you soon.