January 7, 2021: Community Conversations Transcript

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Joseph Helble:
Welcome, everyone, to our 19th Community Conversation, and our first one of the new year, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19—a conversation postponed from our originally scheduled time yesterday afternoon. I’m Joe Helble, the provost at Dartmouth College, joining you from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Jan. 7, 2021. I am joined, as always, by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, from another studio on campus.

And today, we are joined by Lisa Adams, MD, 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; Caitlin Barthelmes, director of the Student Wellness Center at Dartmouth, who is in her ninth year here at Dartmouth; and Eric Ramsey, Dartmouth’s associate dean for student life, in his 17th year working with Dartmouth students. We’ll follow our regular format today with a brief campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Lisa, Caitlin, and Eric about work and plans in their areas, and then ending with an opportunity for them to answer your questions directly.

But before we start, I’d like to take a moment to comment on the events of yesterday, the events that led to our postponement. Dartmouth College, founded in 1769, has been called one of the world’s enduring institutions. Dartmouth is older than the United States itself. Our age can easily lead us to believe that there will always be a Dartmouth. Our age can easily lead us to believe that there will always be a free and democratic United States governed by the rule of law. Yesterday’s events reminded us that even such venerable institutions remain vulnerable institutions. The open inquiry and free, peaceful, and passionate exchange and debate of ideas that we associate with great universities like Dartmouth—these are not self-perpetuating forces of nature. They are fragile, and they must be treated with care and protected if they are to be preserved and even better strengthened.

For one year, before I came to Dartmouth, I worked in the U.S. Capitol as a member of a U.S. senator’s staff. I worked on policy. I walked those halls that we saw on the television images yesterday. I stood in the small staff section at the back of the Senate Chamber, listening to spirited debates on climate, on energy, on the environment. And I never for a moment forgot the privilege of being in that place, with that history, working for an institution devoted to ideals of democracy and freedom. Never perfect, always striving, but for me, always inspiring. And to see it overrun and desecrated in that way was beyond anything I ever thought possible.

At Dartmouth, we value academic freedom and the freedom of dissent—peaceful, respectful dissent. We value the scientific method, the creative process, artistic expression, and critical thinking. Ensuring that each can thrive is the work of a university community like ours. And as I said yesterday, at this moment, that job has never been more important.

We’re here today to discuss our plans for winter term, the starting of classes for most students today, the planned returned to residence halls for undergraduate students in 10 days, the opportunity to engage in thoughtful debate over deeply held ideas. We know that speaking of testing and research and art and skating on the Green may seem insignificant in comparison, but these are core to nurturing and supporting students, to nurturing and supporting a community, supporting a free, inquiring, and intellectual community. It’s our work, it is our mission, and it is what we need now. It’s what we are here to discuss today. So, thank you for joining us for today’s Community Conversation.

We all know that we have a very busy term ahead. Four weeks ago, at the time of our last Community Conversation, final exams had been completed, undergraduate faculty had just submitted fall term grades, and the entire Dartmouth community— students, staff, and faculty alike—was looking ahead to a much-needed winter break. As I said then, the campus community deserved, and deserves, great credit for following the simple but important measures of masking, limiting group size, keeping socially distant, completing the daily TSA symptoms screening check, and participating in weekly surveillance testing—measures that in combination helped keep the number of COVID-19 infections on our campus very low throughout fall term.

We also noted then that rising infection rates globally, nationally, and locally meant that winter would perhaps be even more challenging, even as the vaccines begin to be distributed. In New Hampshire, these vaccines will first be distributed to healthcare workers and long-term care residents, and then later to other members of the population. Dr. Lisa Adams will have a chance to comment on this further in a few moments. But the New Hampshire plans, announced just Tuesday of this week, suggest that vaccines for New Hampshire residents, first in the 65 and above age group, the group designated as group 2A, and then next in the 50- to 65-year-old age group, the group designated as group 2B, will likely be available beginning sometime in the March to May timeframe.

What this means, as I said last month, is that we need to remain vigilant and adhere to all the protective measures we have in place through all of winter term and likely through spring term, as well. Last month, I noted that as of December, Dartmouth had 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 had been a total of 44 positives for a positive test level of 0.076%. Testing continued from that Dec. 8 date through the rest of the month, including through the holiday break, for employees working onsite and for students locally resident. And as noted on our COVID dashboard, as of Tuesday afternoon, we had conducted more than 66,000 tests, or roughly 9,000 over the past four weeks, with a total of 70 positives. This increase in positives over the last four weeks means that our overall percentage of positive tests now stands at 0.11%.

This level is still very low relative to the vast majority of our peers, many of whom are also showing increases over the past month. This level is still low relative to our local county, Grafton County, which has had an overall positive test percentage, or a positivity, as it’s generally called, of 0.96%. Now, it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on this, and how these local numbers have also changed over the course of the fall and early winter. In mid to late October, the active case count in Grafton County, as I’ve reported previously, was less than 40, that’s four zero, active cases per 100,000 population. In December, I reported that it was more than nine times higher, at 375 per 100,000 population. As of Tuesday, it was higher still, at 392 active cases per 100,000.

While this rate is still lower than most places in New England, it is 10 times higher than the levels we were seeing in the area community in October. So I cannot say this strongly enough, as graduate students and professional students return to campus and laboratories this week, as undergraduates return to campus in 10 days, as faculty and staff return to campus in parallel, masking, social distancing, completion of daily TSA screening, and participation in surveillance testing, which starting this week is being conducted twice weekly for students and for those employees who are being tested weekly in the fall, this is essential for us to navigate the winter in a way that allows planned on-campus classes, research, and activities to continue. It is essential for us to continue to do all we can to support the health of this entire community.

Our testing, for most of this month, including all arrival and arrival week testing for all students, will be held in Leverone, as it was during the bulk of the fall term. Starting the week of Jan. 25, testing will move to Thompson Arena for the balance of winter term to help support athletics’ need for indoor space these next few months. To accommodate this move to Thompson, Dartmouth will be supporting additional advanced transit, or AT, daytime service on the Dartmouth downtown shuttle route, which has a stop at Thompson. This will mean that buses will run every 15 minutes during midday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and every 10 minutes until mid-morning, which is 10 a.m. And then again from mid-afternoon until early evening. More detail will be available as we approach the date of the move to Thompson in late January.

Please be reminded that there are capacity limits on these buses in place because of COVID operating protocols, which means that buses may become full. And I know for all of you, for students, faculty, and staff, that the prospect of a five to 10 minute walk across campus on the coldest winter days doesn’t appeal to everyone in quite the same way as it may for some of us, and it may for me. But again, frequent surveillance testing was critical to avoiding outbreaks through the fall. And it is even more important now. We cannot let the weather be a deterrent. We need everyone to engage in regular surveillance testing, even on those cold days when it means a walk across campus to get to Thompson and have your test taken.

As we turn to winter term, with undergraduate and Thayer and Guarini graduate classes beginning today, I’d like to provide a brief update on research, and also on some of our planned winter term activities before turning to your questions, and then to our guests. First in the area of research: Although much of what we’ve discussed in these conversations related to research has been related to protocols during pandemic conditions, Vice Provost for Research Dean Madden has been collecting data on our grant activity during the pandemic, and it is worth noting. It’s a testament to how our faculty and research staff utilize the time that they could not access the campus to focus on developing their ideas for research funding to support future activity.

What do I mean by this? For the six-month period of April through September. 2020, compared to activity in the same period for 2019, the total number of grant proposals submitted by the Dartmouth research community, the federal funding agencies, and other external sources increased, increased by nearly 40%, from 386 proposals in this time period in 2019 to 535 in 2020. This is 149 additional proposals submitted this year compared to the same period a year earlier. Particularly noteworthy were the increases in Thayer and Geisel submissions, which represented not only an increase in total numbers of proposals, but also an increase in total research funding being requested. At Geisel, $120 million in funding requests was submitted through 154 proposals in that six-month period in 2019. In 2020, that had increased to $159 million worth of research support through 195 proposals. At Thayer, comparing the same two periods, the increase was from $52 million in 2019 to $80 million in the same period in 2020.

While we all know that an increase in proposal activity does not, of course, guarantee an increase in research funding, it does offer the possibility of increased research support, and therefore, increased research activity for graduate and undergraduate students alike, beginning about a year from now. And what it does show is that our research community responded strongly, immediately, and impressively to challenging times by focusing not on what they had lost, but instead on what they could do to build an even stronger future.
Let me end today’s remarks with a quick update on the preparation for activities during winter term. Last month, I asked that we embrace winter as Dartmouth always does, something I reminded myself of as I was recently shoveling snow from my walkway, and something that I will frequently remind us of this term as we need to walk across the campus to Thompson Arena for our testing on those cold winter days. We announced our plans to expand outdoor activities throughout the term, including opening the Skiway and having other activities available on campus throughout the term.

Well, it’s now January, and I can report that the Skiway is indeed open, with the Winslow lift operating today. We announced plans to have additional outdoor recreational activities available, including winter sports. And I can report that we now have the outdoor programs office and outdoor rentals active in the Hanover Country Club for operations—50 sleds and tubes that will be here for student use. Plans for grooming cross-country trails on the golf course remaining intact. We could use a little bit more snow right now. But having been here myself for 15 winters, I’m fairly certain that that is coming.

And we also announced plans to expand Collis outdoors through the winter. Saying then that we are exploring whether we might be able to host things like fire pits around campus. The quick update, we are. There will be 12 gas fire pits around campus and staff locations, staff from FO&M will be available to address troubleshooting. And Ramsey I think will be able to tell us about more of the details in just a few minutes. There will be ice skating. And it will be on the Green. And weather permitting, it should be ready by the end of this month. The construction was taking place outside my office earlier today. The rink on the Green is underway.

And finally, as we announced, we remain interested in your thoughts and ideas for things that we might also consider within the boundaries of the public health rules we need to follow. The dedicated email address, wintertermsuggestions2021, that’s all one word, @dartmouth.edu is live. And we encourage you to continue to submit suggestions to this address. These suggestions do not need to be restricted to outdoor activities. We are interested in all ideas.

As an example, during the fall, our center institute and arts directors and their teams experimented with different ways to offer students access to their programming. These efforts will continue through winter term. And new things will also be tried. A great example is the Hood Museum, whose director, John Stomberg, reports that in addition to the Hood’s ongoing virtual programs, the Hood will be offering two different types of in-person experiences at the museum this winter. The first, which the Hood refers to as the tiny tour, is led by a member of the Hood staff who will introduce the various exhibitions currently on view and highlight or range of works in the Hood’s collection. The second, the tiny visit, will consist of self-guided exploration for students, something students in fall term requested where participants will be allowed to walk from gallery to gallery with a small group and explore the Hood’s current installations, accompanied by a visitor services guide. All visits are open to enrolled students with approval to be on campus. Pre-registration through the Hood is required. Now let me end by saying that these are just examples of things to come. This is not an exhaustive list of things to come. We are planning to continue these Community Conversations through winter term, and we will therefore use this forum to provide updates on our plans and on our planning as the term progresses.

And as we have all learned these past 10 months, our plans and our planning are shaped by factors including many that we do not control such as state and federal guidance and rules and factors we cannot control such as the national progression of the disease itself. But there are things we can control—limiting contacts, remaining socially distant, handwashing, mask wearing, frequent surveillance testing. As in the fall, we will need to continually assess and reassess our operations and our plans in light of these changing conditions. To the campus community, I ask that you please understand this, case counts recently have been rising. And it means that if the disease begins to spread rapidly in our community, we will need to make changes. It may mean, in fact, more restrictions on our operations.

There is no other way forward in a pandemic. And for example, just this afternoon, we became aware of a cluster of three undergraduate students in the Dartmouth community who have tested positive for COVID-19. These students, who are living off campus and are in isolation, are resting comfortably and receiving medical care and support. But it reminds us of the immediate challenge before us. I therefore thank you for your patience this month for your patience this term, and even perhaps for your patience this year, as we continue to navigate our way through this collectively. With that, thank you for listening. Justin, I turn to you to see if there are any questions coming in from our viewers this afternoon, Justin.

Justin Anderson:
Thank you, Joe. There are some questions, so I’ll get right to them. You, just as you were closing, mentioned that the case count has recently been rising, and a viewer writes in who has noticed that same thing based on the COVID-19 dashboard. Given that there has been a recent rise in cases, which seems to be growing by the day, will winter term be all remote and when will you decide that?

So, thank you, Justin. That’s a great question. And obviously something that’s very much on our minds. The plans today, our intention today, is to continue to operate as we have planned. And so, there’ll be some classes in person some classes hybrid. The majority of classes offered through remote learning, but with students resident on campus. But I will absolutely acknowledge that the concern in positive case counts over the past week has given us pause. We’re watching this closely; we are monitoring this on a daily basis. As of today, we do not have any intention to change plans, but if the disease begins to accelerate and we find that we are getting increasing caseloads that reach the point where they are difficult to manage, we are going to have to very carefully assess our plans.

So, what is our plan today? Our plan is to operate with students returning to campus on the weekend of Jan. 16 and 17. As with everything in this pandemic, conditions changing may affect our ability to operate. We will communicate openly and honestly and transparently as best we can. And that’s the best answer I can give today. And that will be the best answer I can give, unfortunately, at any moment as this pandemic progresses, until we start to see extensive vaccination of the population and disease counts locally and nationally begin to diminish and diminish dramatically.

Joe, you mentioned the positivity rate of 0.11%, and rightfully describe that as being quite low. A question about what we said last term about the threshold at which we would reconsider residency, which was 1%. Is that still the case? Is that still the number that we’re looking at?

That’s still our operating threshold. Remember that that is a factor that we said would be a trigger to reevaluate our plans. That is not an automatic shutdown threshold, that is also not a threshold that we say we will continue operating residentially no matter what. That is one of several parameters we are watching, and when the positivity rate in a defined period of time approaches or exceeds 1%, that will cause us to convene our internal group and ask questions about our ability to manage. Is it something that effects on campus students and off-campus students disproportionately? What is the rate of increase that has taken us to 1%? What are the conditions on the ground around us? What is the availability of support capacity in Dick’s House and at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center? All these kinds of things factor into that discussion. But 1% positivity is a trigger that causes us to step back and have those conversations.

Joe, a question about vaccines. Will Dartmouth be distributing vaccines just as Dartmouth is doing testing, or will community members have to go to DH or to a local doctor or clinic in order to get the vaccines once they become available?

Right now, Justin, it appears that it’s the latter, that the vaccines, when they are available to members of our community in the appropriate age bands, and it seems that in this week only both New Hampshire and Vermont have gone to what I would call an age banding approach for distributing the vaccine. It is going to be either through Dartmouth Hitchcock or through individual’s local primary health care provider. But I would ask that actually you ask that question again when Lisa Adams joins us in a few minutes, because she is in contact with the authorities at the state level who are overseeing the vaccine distribution plan and protocol. And she may well have more information to add on that point.

We will definitely ask that of Lisa. We’ll have a lot of questions, I suspect ,for Lisa today. You mentioned in your opening remarks, Joe, the frequency of surveillance testing and how last term it was a once a week and that this term it’s twice a week. What’s the rationale for the change? Was one not good enough? If we’re doing two now, why didn’t we do two then? Is two an arbitrary number or what’s the rationale guiding the decisions in terms of how often we are doing surveillance testing?

Yeah, thank you, Justin. There were some recommendations that came out from public health authorities just earlier this week that said ideally campuses should be operating with all the protective measures we have in place. And with twice a week surveillance testing as best practices to keep the levels of disease transmission under control and to keep the community safe. And we had made this decision in advance. So that was nice validation of our plan, but our plan wasn’t put forth in a vacuum, our plan was put for through significant consultation with public health authorities, with our own epidemiologist and those at other campuses over the course of October, November, and December as we developed this plan. Why the change from one in the fall to two in the winter? It’s fairly simple. Two points: No. 1 is the level of community transmission in the community disease rate is much higher now than it was in August, September, and early November. With lower levels, the likelihood of the probability of any one individual in our community catching the disease is much lower.

No. 2, we know that in winter, people are going to be spending, students, faculty, and staff are going to be spending far more time indoors. And even with masking, even with hand washing, even with social distancing, even with capacity limits, we know that the probability of spread is much higher indoors compared to outdoors. And so, given that, we made the decision that for the winter term, we would move to twice per week surveillance testing. We haven’t made any decision at this point on spring term. We may be able to return to once per week, if the disease local community transmission numbers, local community transmission rates are reduced compared to where they are now, and in fact, if the weather is such that we were able to set up tents outdoors and provide much more opportunity for students to be outdoors. But for winter term, when we’re indoors, it will be twice a week.

Joe, we have time for one more question. And this is another question about vaccinations and vaccines. So probably a good time for us to be transitioning to Lisa and our other guests, because there are a lot of questions that I suspect we can ask her. But this question is whether or not Dartmouth will be offering vaccinations to the partners or the spouses of essential employees?

At this point in time, Justin, no, as with testing, our plan and intention is to offer vaccination to our employees. But I say that with a caveat, because to your earlier question, it appears at this point in time that Dartmouth is not the institution who is offering the vaccine, and everything I have heard, certainly in Vermont and New Hampshire is that the vaccine is going to be made available free of charge. So, given that, an individual spouse or partners access to the vaccine will be determined by the same parameters that determine a Dartmouth employee’s access to the vaccine and they will be able to access it through the same mechanisms through the same channels that our employees would at the same time.

So hopefully that answers that question or concern of the questionnaire. We can come back and pose that again to Lisa to see if she has something more to add. So, with that, thank you, Justin, and thank you all for the questions I’d like to see if we can bring Lisa, Caitlin, and Eric into join us. Welcome, good to see you all. I’m joined by Lisa Adams, MD, a professor in the Geisel School of Medicine, familiar to everyone who has watched community conversations these past eight months, Lisa is one of our most frequent visitors for many important reasons. By Caitlin Barthelmes, the director of student wellness center at Dartmouth. This is Caitlin’s first visit to community conversations, and by Ramsey, our associate dean for student life, who is also making his first visit to Community Conversations today. So, in particular, Caitlin and Eric, wonderful to have you here. Lisa, good to see you as always.

So, given the many questions that Justin posed me about vaccination and epidemiology, I’m going to use that as an opportunity to turn to you first, Lisa, if you don’t mind, and toss you the first question. And Lisa, you’re a very frequent guest in Community Conversations, as I’ve said. And it seems that every time you are here, I need to ask you about the course of the pandemic. And so why break with tradition? You’re here today. I’m going to ask you about recent trends in the course of the pandemic, particularly given that things have changed fairly substantially over the past month. When we last spoke, a month ago, a newer strain that’s been characterized as more infectious, but not more virulent, has been detected now in the U.S., first in Europe and then in the U.S.

It seems to be equally well managed by the new vaccines, but I’d like to ask you just to comment on that, because I know there are questions. I get questions on the streets around this point. So, if I could ask you just to comment on that on the basics of what we know, does the current test detect it as effectively, are we tracking it locally and nationally, if not, do you have a sense of why not? And does its emergence, a lot of questions rolled in here, does its emergence mean that we on campus who are managing operations in the face of the pandemic should be thinking about things any differently?

Lisa Adams:
Thanks, Joe, it’s always nice to be a guest in these conversations, and I think particularly today. So, as you point out, the emergence of this new strain, called B117, that was first noted in the U.K. is indeed quite worrisome. And now we actually have a similarly behaving new strain, 501YV2, that was recently detected in South Africa. So, we’re still collecting information on both of these strains, but what we do know at this point about B117 is that it contains about 17 mutations, which is an unusually large number to appear at any one time, and that it appears to be as much as 50% to 70% more infectious than the prior predominant strains. But as you said, it does not appear to cause a more severe form of disease, though this is still being studied. The good news is that our current PCR tests that we’re using will be positive if someone is infected with this new strain, but special sequencing is currently the only way to know which strain someone has.

Currently there are no active systematic surveillance programs in the U.S. for these new variants, but I understand these are in development as we speak. In the U.S., a very small proportion of strains, well less than 1%, I think well less than 0.5% are being sequenced whereas in the U.K., they’re sequencing roughly 10%. So, this is going to change over time. We know it has to. So, we are optimistic that our current vaccines will confer protection against these new strains and that’s because the vaccine stimulates a polyclonal, or a multiple, and no single antibody response. But again, this is being actively studied as well. So, I think suffice it to say that the situation with this new strain or new strains is dynamic, and that has been a common theme throughout the pandemic, but that’s all the more reason why, as you have said, and I will say again, it’s important for us to be staying the course with all of our preventative measures of face coverings, practicing physical distancing, participating in surveillance testing, and of course, avoiding travel and gatherings.

And lastly, let me just say a few words about the current trends, both locally and across the country, which we know are also cause for concern. So, in New Hampshire, the state’s reporting about 700 to 800 new cases a day. And we’ve seen the test positivity rate hover between eight and 9% statewide, and as we know, and in Grafton County, it’s about today at 2.3%. So, the question is whether this rise is due to the recent holiday gatherings, is it due to some pandemic fatigue and collective relaxation of preventive measures, or due to circulation of the new strain or strains in our community? And it’s probably a combination of all of the above. So, as we did throughout the fall, we’ll continue to monitor our local data very closely, as you have said, and again, need to reinforce the need for very diligent adherence to our now routine public health measures.

So, could I ask you Lisa just two quick questions on the testing of the variant strain or strains? Do you know whether it extends the turnaround time for getting a test result back those places that are doing it?

We don’t have any reason to believe that it extends the turnaround time. The way the PCR test is running, it should still be able to detect the genetic material in the same way that it would with any of the other strains.

And do we have in those few places in the US where these tests are being run, I’ve heard that in the U.K., I think the number is 60% of the new infections are associated with the new strain. Is there anything we can say about the places in the U.S. that are routinely running the analysis?

No, we do know that it has been detected in about a handful of states across the US. As I understand, and I think what makes most sense, is this to be a national CDC led effort to have surveillance points. And I understand, I can’t speak with great confirmation, but I understand that discussions are underway to do surveillance of roughly 10 to 15%, some representative sampling of our strains across the country.

Great. Thank you, Lisa. More to come on this, no doubt. So, Caitlin, I’d like to turn to you now, you’re a slightly different direction. You’re the director of the Student Wellness Center, and I’m guessing that not all of our viewers will know the role your office plays with students, but also with the broader community. So, could you start, just take a few minutes and talk to us about your role and the work of your office in supporting community health and community wellness?

Caitlin Barthelmes:
I’d love to, thanks for having me here today. So, I direct the Student Wellness Center, and our goal is to empower our community to thrive. And we know that we can’t achieve that just by being one department, so we really are thankful to have such strong partners, both within the division of student affairs, but also across the entire institution, who are already doing so much to support the well-being of our undergraduate students, our graduate and professional students, and our faculty and staff. It truly takes a village to elevate the well-being of our community, and so we’re thankful for that. We also know that any one individual’s well-being is interrelated with the people they interact with each day. And that’s why we also are trying to constantly think about how do we elevate that well-being across the community, so that we can all thrive together.

Our department, in particular, tries to do that by offering opportunities for reflection, connection, intention, and action. And what that simply means is we invite folks to pause and think of how things are going for them right now, check in with themselves, to check in with each other and then give some space to try to create some intentional actions towards the people they want to become and the life that they want to be living. And this model then, our hope is that empowers students to really own their wellbeing experience so that they’re able to be equipped with skills that contributes to their success. Not just during the pandemic, not just while they’re here at Dartmouth, but across their lifespan, and hopefully then become these ethical leaders that can, in turn, create communities that thrive as well.

So, if I can ask you a follow-up, reflection, connection, intention, and action is what I think you said, and those things, many of them sound as if they are most effective when you are having face-to-face engagement with your community, and we all know that that’s been extraordinarily challenging this year. So, has anything changed in the way your office approaches its work and approaches engagement with students and the broader community, in the face of a virtual environment because of the pandemic?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, even the concept of thriving during a pandemic, when you have these additional stressors coming at you, can be really difficult. And so, we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into thinking creatively and innovatively around how can we increase access to these opportunities, regardless of where students are, if they’re on campus, off campus, in a different time zone. And so, our website now essentially acts as a virtual student wellness center in and of itself. So, you can access a robust library of asynchronous offerings, including recordings of yoga and meditation, at any point, whenever you want. It also serves as a place where we can put out there publications like well-being tips guides, across different subject matters. And then it’s also the place, a centralized place where people can sign up for our live offerings. So, we have drop-in meditation and yoga sessions, we also have a wellness check-in program, in which students can talk with trained listeners about whatever’s on their minds and in their hearts.

Great. Thank you. So, Eric, I want to build off that and turn to you. You have an equally broad portfolio, where you’re engaging with students across the campus in a whole range of areas. I’m not sure that many of our faculty, I think our students know, but I’m not sure that many of our faculty and staff truly have a sense of the range of your work, how broad your portfolio is as associate sean for student life. And so I have a couple of specific questions, but first, if you could just start by telling us what activities and offices fall within the scope of your office.

Eric Ramsey:
Thanks, Joe. I had the great privilege of working in the Dean of the College Division and broadly speaking, in my own language, I think the Dean of the College Dvision is about building positive, inclusive community building and connection, not only to one’s own values, but each other, groups and the academic experience. So, what that means for student life is that we do that through student leadership, through student governance and through student organizations and really agency in their own decision-making. So, we take great pride that we’re a group of professionals that are behind the scenes, supporting the students to do their best and create their own experience, not only to Dartmouth, but through Dartmouth, and a lot of that is through exploration.

So, whether it is the Collis Student Center or it’s outdoor programs or it’s Greek life, or the traditions that student life supports, there’s many opportunities. And it’s also across the state of New Hampshire, so in student life, we get to support the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, 12 cabins up on the second college grant and all across the state of New Hampshire. So, our laboratory is large, but our commitment and ability to support student learning throughout all of that is our primary goal.

Great, thanks. I’d like to ask you a few follow-ups, if I may, before I turn back to Caitlin and Lisa, because you touched on some interesting things. Your portfolio is large and is outdoors and is scattered, and a lot of that means, in a pandemic, we need to approach it differently. And so, could you comment on a few of those things? How is the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge operating, if at all, this winter? How are we going to be utilizing the Collis Center over the course of the winter? Maybe you can even say a bit more about the fire pits that I mentioned, because I’m certainly interested in the details, and I’m sure, since I’ve heard about it from students, I’m sure that that’s of interest to the student community as well.

Yeah. We’ll start with the Collis Center, where I’m sitting right now. I’m excited, it’s a very special space and somewhere I’m excited to greet you from. So, in the Collis Center, this past term, we have a team of students and staff, faculty, and student governance leaders have been focused on how to make sure that Collis remains central to Dartmouth’s daily life. And in the fall, that’s meant a lot of supportive informal spaces, whether it’s study spaces on the second floor, opening of the Collis Cafe, etc. As we look to winter, as we returned to upper-level students back on campus, we really are excited to return to a more normal Collis Center. Collis common ground will return to hosting programs and events. One Wheelock will be central to the experience. We will also be expanding our offerings on the Collis patio.

We will have a winter wonderland out on the Collis patio, where there will be fire pits and Adirondack chairs and places for students to be able to congregate, even in the coldest times. And outdoor programs, they have been critical to making sure that students find community in the fall term. That’s not going to let up in the winter. So, our Dartmouth Outing Club will remain central to Dartmouth’s life as well. We will be, as you’ve mentioned earlier, we will be opening winter wonderland north at the Hanover Country Club, where we are committed to providing low to no-cost programming for students. So, we want people to be able to embrace our northern woods location, and so whether it’s Nordic skiing, beginner skiers can get a lesson for free, or whether it is sledding down the hill, or whether it’s just talking as they go on a snowshoe across the golf course, those are important things.

And then what has been talked about a lot, we will be, I hate to correct your Joe, but we won’t be opening one ice rink, we’ll be opening two ice rinks on the Green, so that we can make sure that as many people in the community can enjoy the ice rink and winter socializing as much as possible. One last thing I would talk about is Greek life. As we approach this winter term, many of our Greek organizations will be reactivating and we will be hosting recruitment this winter, virtual, for both our Greek organizations and many of our senior societies. So those are important community spaces and we’re excited to support those as well.

That’s great. Thank you, Eric, and thanks for the information actually, this is wonderful because even in community conversations, even given how often I interact with all of you, I learned something I did not know, that we were opening two skating rinks on the Green, not only one. So, I look forward to seeing them come to fruition. I will be watching progress in the days that I’m in my office in Parkhurst, from the window. Thank you. So, Caitlin, let me turn back to you for a quick question, and then Lisa, I’m going to finish up with a quick question for you as well, so that we have time for Justin to bring in questions from the audience. And Caitlin, the question I have for you is fairly straightforward. One of the things we’ve been emphasizing in our Community Conversations over the course of the past month is the importance of getting feedback from the community and building on that.

I mentioned the Hop, sorry, the Hood’s chang in plans as a result of student feedback. A lot of the things that Eric and his team are doing came as a result of thoughtful exchanges with student assembly and with student leaders over the course of the fall, things that they would like to have seen, things they requested, to give us more opportunity for outdoor activity or outdoor fire pits. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the community that you interact with over the course of the past year during the pandemic, and has it affected your operations at all this term, your plans? What are you going to be doing differently?

Yeah, absolutely. I love that you asked that question because our department values evaluation and assessments so much. So, in addition to tracking the website utilization, which did skyrocket over the course of the pandemic, we concluded fall term with a survey to all of the folks who participated in our wellbeing offerings. And so far, the preliminary data is very positive. All of the respondents thus far said whatever they participated in had some value and many of them noted the chance to check in with themselves was the most helpful. So, building off of that, how we’re using that to do some new things different in the winter term, is we’re going to be training even more listeners. So, students who want to connect with others will have more opportunities to do that. We’ll also be expanding our mindfulness offerings. And so one of the things I’m excited about, coming up here in just a few days, is we’ll be launching a mindfulness 15-day challenge. We’re starting it in conjunction with when the undergraduate students are planned to move into campus, to take advantage of that reflective space that can come with a quarantine period.

I want to emphasize it’s not just restricted to on-campus undergraduate students. In fact, we’re hoping to invite the entire community into that challenge, to start experimenting with what integrating a daily mindfulness practice might look like for them. And then in addition to that, we’re constantly refining our other offerings around high-risk drinking and sexual-violence prevention. And so, we’ll be rolling out some new revisions of those programs, and we know that those are so intertwined with mental health. And just looking forward to continuing our collaborations, not just with our campus partners, but our remarkable students who have been providing so much energy and good ideas for us to bring into fruition in the coming terms.

Great. Thanks, Caitlin. And I’d like to actually put an exclamation point on something you said, I sometimes know that students, particularly our graduate and professional students, when they hear activities are for students, assume that those are for undergraduates only, but you just emphasized very clearly, these activities are for the entire community. That means staff and faculty, I presume, but it absolutely means graduate and professional students. And so, I’d encourage any of them who may be watching to look at what Caitlin’s team is offering and think about participating. It’s a great way to connect with other members of the community and also help look after and take care of yourselves. So, thank you, Caitlin.

So, Lisa, I’m going to turn to you and I’m going to ask you to be really brief on a complicated question, given time and a desire to turn to outside questions. But the question of course is vaccination and whether there’s any more detail available that you can share with the community. Vermont and New Hampshire have been updating their plans this week, and I think the Vermont plans, at least as of this morning, have not been fully articulated on the website, but we know that both states are going to age banding in the next phase. What can you tell us about that? And of course, the question that’s on everyone’s minds, the question I was just asked when I was in line at Leverone a couple of days ago to have my COVID test taken, was when will the vaccine become available to members of the Dartmouth community? What can you tell us?

OK, I’ll try to be brief. It’s a long answer, but the short answer to this is that New Hampshire has been doing a great job of rolling out their vaccine, with a focus on reducing deaths and preserving the healthcare system, focusing on 1A recipients. So, we have phases, 1A recipients are health workers, first responders, residents of long-term care facilities. They have actually already administered the first vaccine dose to about a third of the roughly hundred thousand individuals in that 1A category, or they will be completing that by next week or the week after. And now they’re moving to their 1B category, which as you said, starts to have those age bands. So 1B is age 75 and older, but also includes medically vulnerable individuals, staff and residents of developmental disabilities facilities and staff at corrections facilities. And they hope to have fully vaccinated everybody in 1A and 1B by the end of March.

Then they move to phase 2A and 2B, and that’s where we really get into the age bands. So, it’s 65 to 74 for category 2A and its age 50 to 64 for category 2B. The only additional occupational group included in any of the phases, is the staff of K through 12 schools and childcare centers. So, college and university staff are not included as a high-risk occupation. So, our employees will really be folded into the rollout plan, based on their age and any high-risk conditions they may have. And so, we’re looking at starting with the categories for 3A and 3B, which are those under 50 with some moderate risk factors and then 3B is everybody else, that’s really going to be starting in May and continuing throughout the summer. So, looking at it by age categories, it may be starting in March for some of our employees and will be certainly continuing through the summer for many others.

And thank you, Lisa. And that’s certainly a strong indication that, as we think ahead to fall, sorry, to spring term and spring-term operations, it’s quite likely that we are going to be getting spring-term operating under conditions that look very similar to winter term. Perhaps we can bring more students back to campus. Perhaps we can think about slight re-densification of the residence halls, but it’s abundantly clear to me, given the vaccine rollout plan, that we are not going to be able to operate at full capacity in the spring. And that’s something we’ll speak about more in detail as these Community Conversations progress. But I think we should all, as a community, recognize that spring will not be a return to normalcy, unfortunately, much as we wish it were so. So, thank you all, Anderson, I’m going to turn it to you. We have about 10 minutes to see what questions have come in from our viewers.

Thanks, Joe. And Lisa, I’m going to continue to pick on you, based on the interest in your area of expertise. Now, based on what you just said about the timing of the rollout, realizing that it’s obviously not etched in stone and it could change. A lot of these questions may be more relevant to a timeframe that’s going to be later in the year, as opposed to winter term. But I’m going to ask nonetheless, because it’s still of interest and we don’t know exactly when people will be getting the vaccines. But will people who received the vaccine still need to wear masks, avoid crowds, etc.? Will they, once they’ve been vaccinated, have greater access once they’re on campus?

Thanks, Justin. This is a really important question. So, let me say it is absolutely essential that even after someone is vaccinated they continue to practice good public health measures. The face covering, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and travel. And for our community members to participate in our surveillance testing. And the reasons for this are twofold. The first is because we know that the vaccine protects against symptomatic and severe disease, but we don’t know yet if it prevents asymptomatic disease and the ability to transmit infection to others. We will have these results in the coming months, but we simply don’t have this information now. So, for now, absolutely that ... . As we gain more information, we may be reassessing. But the second reason too, is also important to keep in mind is we know that 95% efficacy is not 100%. And there were still about a dozen individuals in the vaccine arms of both clinical trials that were diagnosed with symptomatic COVID disease. So again, my refrain remains: It’s still going to be important for us to stay the course with our public health practices.

Eric, I’d like to go to you. I think that your list of activities piqued the interest of some of our viewers. And you mentioned this skating on the Green and as snowshoeing on the golf course, the questioner asks whether or not there will be a limit to the number of people who will be able to participate in those events at any one time? I assume that there will be, but how is that being determined?

I think it’s important to note that as Lisa has talked several times in this chat, that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and we need to be very mindful of interactions that we have. So, we will be still capping our activities at 25 and for our College-sponsored programs and nine for informal programs. So, there is some dialogue right now about our larger outdoor events, but those are still being worked out as we, as time goes on.

And Caitlin, I’d like to jump to you, as I told you before, we began Community Conversations today that that wellness and mental health is something that we have been hearing about on community conversations for a while. And there’s a lot of interest in this. I also think that there is not a lot of understanding about exactly what we are offering to students who come to you or us in crisis or needing some sort of resources. And so, this is a very simple question: The questioner asks, “What are you doing for the mental health of students?” Now you mentioned listening and mindfulness but what is this suite of services that are being offered to students who, as you said earlier, are coming in increasing numbers to get some sort of help?

Yeah. I’m glad you talked about the suite of services, because I think that’s really representative of how Dartmouth is addressing this and always addresses mental health and well-being. So, when it comes to crisis and students in need of support for their mental health concerns, it’s really more of the area for the counseling center. And I would defer to them to answer more explicitly. But what I can say is that Dartmouth offers 24/7 on-call services for all students, regardless of where they’re at. The counseling center can provide consultations to students wherever they’re at. And if any licensing issues come up, they work with those students to find providers in their area, turning to my department as an additional, it’s certainly we don’t provide clinical services and we’re not intended to be a substitute for therapeutic interventions. But what we do know is that things that can bolster our well-being like mindfulness are tools in the toolbox of folks who either can utilize those as gateways into a more therapeutic path or a stop gap if they’re in between providers.

And then I also want to emphasize this is hard times for all of us. And so, any things that can help support managing stress, navigating transitions, facing challenges, and in seeking out opportunities that may be presenting themselves, can ultimately help contribute to more positive mental health and wellbeing in general. And so, our programs are really designed for everyone again, to elevate that regardless of where you’re at on the spectrum, and then to act additionally as complimentary ways to augment more clinical services as well.

Caitlin, I’m going to stay with you for another question before I go back to Lisa and Eric, as we close in on 4:30. Is there anything that you learned from the fall term experience in terms of what students and community members were facing that can help provide guidance or advice for people as we are beginning another term? In terms of things that they might do proactively to maintain a high level of wellness under what continues to be really trying circumstances?

I think my best advice is to find the recipe that works for you regarding the number of in-person things that you can participate in, the number of authentic connections you can make with people and the number of ways that you can foster your well-being, whether it’s through engaging mindfully or acting intentionally. So, I think what we’re hearing from students is it’s this balance, our students are taking this public health crisis very seriously, and I’m really proud of them for that. And then we also have to almost constantly have a barometer for ourselves for where I might at day to day on the emotional level, on the social level, on the intellectual level, so that I can then act in accordance with what is going to get my needs met. And it may be different every day, it may be different for every person. And that’s why we try at the Student Wellness Center to offer a wide swath of a menu of options, whether it’s tiny things or more involved things.

And then Dartmouth, in general, as Eric has been talking about opportunities. And as Joe mentioned earlier in his comments, there are a lot of ways. And I do think just encouraging people to listen to themselves and listen to the wisdom that they have for what they may need, and then seeking that out.

Thanks, Caitlin. And that’s a great segue to Eric. Eric, I wanted to ask based on some questions I’m seeing about how you and student affairs is working with students to try to develop some things that they can do that will promote all of the good work that that Caitlin is doing. And that can lead to higher levels of satisfaction and contentment and stress relief during this public health crisis. How are you working with students?

Thanks for asking that Justin. Most of the ideas that we’re implementing this winter came directly from students. So, whether it is a weekly meeting with student leaders, or it is informal conversations that we’ve been having. These are what we’re implementing now or directly based on student feedback. And I would really encourage students, whether it is reaching out to the winter 2021 suggestions blitz, whether it’s reaching out to student life or residential life or the housing communities, please reach out and give us your ideas. There’s a whole team of people that are very interested in making sure that Dartmouth is at its best for this winter. We want to support the student experience. We’re trying to adjust as quickly as we possibly can for the global pandemic, but student success here is most important. I would also like to plug, I didn’t mention earlier, but much of our plans are based on students stepping up and assisting.

If you’re interested in a campus job and supporting the opening of buildings or supporting Call Us or working at the ice rinks, please reach out to the call center. That’s critical to our ability to navigate the winter. And even if you’re not interested in student employment, but you want to give back to Dartmouth during this time, we’d really appreciate it.

Lisa, we have time for just one more question. And so, you’re going to get the last question from me. This is an interesting scenario. A viewer asks, “If a student receives their first dose of the vaccine at home, when they come to Hanover, can they get the second dose?” Are you able to split it up like that? Is that something that you think would be possible or is that either you don’t know or something that is not going to be practical?

So, as you know, it’s the state health department that’s coordinating distribution and administration of vaccines. So, we would have to see if we could work with them. I will say that the current recommendation is, if you start with one vaccine, you start with the Pfizer, you start with the Moderna, your second dose should be of the same vaccine. So, they’re not right now allowing any mixing of the type. So that would be a factor also to consider based on what the individual received at home and what we’re able to provide in New Hampshire. But that’s something that I think we’ll need to work with the state on. Because I understand that there may be some individuals, some students in that category.

Well, thank you very much, Lisa. And thank you, Caitlin and Eric, for joining us today, 24 hours later than we thought. We appreciate you rolling with it. And being able to join us today, Thursday, one day later than usual. And to the viewers out there who are watching, thank you for joining us one day later than usual. So, with that, Joe, I’ll go back to you.

Great. So, thank you, Justin and Eric, Caitlin, and Lisa, wonderful to see you all. And thanks very much for the insightful and informative conversation.

Let me just close by saying to you and to all of us at this particular moment in time, and particularly in the face of the extraordinary events of yesterday. Remember, we are a mission driven organization. We create knowledge, we develop and foster patients, we allow and encouraged descent and we promote tolerance. We educate and at this particular moment in time, what could be more important to the nation than that? I’m energized to be back for the start of 2021 in the new academic year. And I’m proud to be part of an organization like Dartmouth. I hope you are as well. Thank you for all you have done in support of our students, their education, their growth in their ability to learn, to engage in respectful debate. It is deeply and sorely needed.

Thank you everyone. And we look forward to seeing you again in two weeks on Wednesday, Jan. 20, for the next Community Conversations. Until then be well, be safe. We’ll see you soon.