Community Conversations: Masks off, Vaccines on

News subtitle

Many COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on campus, effective June 24.

Community Conversation June 24
Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson, left, and Provost Joseph Helble talk during the June 23 Community Conversations webcast. (Photo by Robert Gill)

Watch the June 23 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble, trustee Chair Liz Lempres ’83, Thayer ’84; Neal Katyal ’91; and Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Smith.

In his last Community Conversations as provost, Joseph Helble—who leaves Dartmouth at the end of the month to take up his new role as president of his alma mater, Lehigh University—announced significant changes to Dartmouth’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions, beginning Thursday, June 24.

Broadcasting outdoors on Baker Lawn for the first time since the pandemic began, Helble was joined, via Zoom, by Dartmouth’s incoming chair of the board of trustees, Liz Lempres ’83, Thayer ’84; incoming trustee Neal Katyal ’91; and Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth Smith. The conversation was moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson, who appeared in person with Helble.

’A Summer of Transition’

The loosened restrictions—which come sooner than the administration and the COVID-19 Task Force anticipated—are possible because more than 80% of Dartmouth’s on-campus student community has now been vaccinated, well in advance of the June 30 deadline summer term students have for reporting their vaccination status, Helble said.

In addition, the town of Hanover has lifted its COVID-19 emergency public health notice, which had mandated the wearing of masks and restricted gatherings in town.

“I hope the overarching message is clear. Through the efforts of so many, we have made great, great progress, and summer looks to be a term of renewed connection—and hope,” Helble said.

Because of these developments, beginning Thursday, Dartmouth is unrolling new guidelines for mask wearing and physical distancing. Among the changes, which will be announced in greater detail in a community message later this week:

  • Vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors. Those who are not yet fully vaccinated are still required to wear a face covering indoors, but not outdoors, and anyone experiencing COVID-like symptoms—vaccinated or not—should still wear a mask. Helble also stressed that vaccinated individuals who feel more comfortable continuing to wear masks should do so. “We want everyone to be comfortable in their working environment,” he said.
  • Most spaces on campus can return to full capacity for the campus community, though a handful of spaces with limited ventilation—a list will be posted soon—will continue to have lower capacity, and it may take up to a month to move furniture back into all “re-densified” spaces across campus.
  • Students will have keycard access to all academic facilities, and Helble anticipates the need for keycards to end by Aug. 1.
  • All event and gathering size limits have been lifted, as well as dining and eating restrictions. The tables and chairs in the Class of 1953 Commons will be restored to pre-pandemic configurations by July 6. In addition, the Zimmerman Fitness Center will reopen to students on June 24, and for faculty and staff by the end of the summer.
  • Among expanded activities available to students this summer, the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge will reopen for dinners and day use next week, with transportation available from campus.
  • Current restrictions on outside visitors will likely remain in place until Aug. 1, and the Hood Museum of Art, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and the Dartmouth Library remain closed to the public.
  • The daily temperature and self-assessment tool (TSA) that Dartmouth has used since the early days of the pandemic for those working on campus has been discontinued. COVID-19 testing protocols have also changed: Vaccinated community members living or working on campus will be tested only once per month, while those who have not yet completed vaccination will be tested twice a week.

Helble also discussed the new employee vaccination policy announced by Chief Human Resources Officer Scot Bemis on June 23. The policy mandates that employees show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by Sept. 1, or receive a medical or religious waiver.

Katyal—a Georgetown University law professor and former acting solicitor general of the United States—said that while COVID-19 may be a new disease, vaccination mandates have a long legal history.

“The Supreme Court started thinking about this in 1905, and certainly, universities and employers require all sorts of vaccinations already, including Dartmouth,” Katyal said. “In general, the law has said it’s fine to require vaccinations because it does improve the overall health of the community at minimal cost. This is going to allow this campus to blossom.”

A Return to the Classroom and to Strategic Priorities

Calling the lifted restrictions “a huge announcement,” Smith said that the vast majority of faculty “can’t wait to get back into the classroom and meet with students in person. This is a really hopeful moment for an extraordinary summer experience.”

Though excitement to return to in-person teaching is high, she said that one benefit of remote teaching has been to let faculty experiment with methods and technology they might not have adopted otherwise. “I have heard a lot of excitement among the faculty about taking this new toolset and seeing how they can incorporate that into their in-person teaching,” she said.

Lempres, a senior partner emeritus at McKinsey & Company, said her hope for the board of trustees in the coming year is a transition from the emergency response COVID required back to “longer-term, more strategic work, thinking about the future of higher education, thinking about what it means to take advantage of all the assets Dartmouth has. It’s very important that the board balance some of these near-term opportunities and priorities with the work of the long-term health of the institution, because that really is our primary role.”

Among these priorities, infrastructure—especially student housing—is high on the list, she said.

A Farewell, and a Speed-Work Challenge

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s broadcast, Anderson took a moment to acknowledge Helble’s role in establishing Community Conversations as a tool to communicate with students, faculty, staff, and families during the pandemic.

“You wanted to provide a face to the constant stream of COVID updates being emailed to the community,” Anderson said. “You wanted to humanize a process that seemed impersonal, disorienting, and upsetting to so many of us. It’s not easy to transform, more or less overnight, a residential academic community that thrives on close connection and personal interaction into a safe environment in which to live and learn in the throes of a highly contagious virus, but you helped us do that.”

In pre-COVID times, Helble and Anderson, who are both long-distance runners, have been known to run together while traveling for Dartmouth, and Anderson extended Helble an open invitation to return to Hanover to “run the hills of the Upper Valley together, or head over Memorial Field to do speed work.”

Helble thanked the production team as well as all who have watched and asked questions during the past year’s broadcasts. But he was firm in his response to Anderson’s challenge.

“There’s no way on Earth that speed work is happening,” he said

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth’s Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next broadcast, which will be hosted by incoming Interim Provost David Kotz ’86, is scheduled for July 21.

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

Hannah Silverstein