Welcome, everyone to our sixth Community Conversation, addressing planning response and operations at Dartmouth College in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, provost of Dartmouth College, and I’m joining you from Starr Instructional Studios in Berry Library on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H.
I’m joined this afternoon by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio here on campus, and also by two individuals who will join us later this hour and speak to both our budgets and our campus operational decisions. Both of them joining us from their homes in the Upper Valley. We’ll be joined by Rick Mills, Dartmouth’s executive vice president for finance and administration, and by Dr. Lisa Adams, professor at the Geisel School of Medicine, the associate dean for global health, and a specialist in the care and treatment of infectious tuberculosis, and also the co-chair of our COVID-19 task force.
I’ll provide a brief campus update, we’ll take live questions moderated by Justin Anderson, and then turn to our conversation with Rick and Lisa, who will also take your questions live.
Today, I’ll provide brief updates on phase one of our research reopening and a related update on the libraries, speak to our budgetary and academic planning as we move into the last month of fiscal year 2020 and look ahead to the July 1 starting the new fiscal year, and finally take a few moments to comment on admissions as we look ahead to the class of 2025.
But before I turn to an operations update, I’d like to take just a moment to comment on the troubling events of this past week. It’s been an extraordinarily challenging week for our country and one that I hope we have all been affected by. I want to especially acknowledge how painful and exhausting these events have been and sadly, I think how unsurprising they have been for many in the communities of color, both within our Dartmouth family and around the world.
As President Hanlon said in his message to campus this past weekend, racism, hate, and bigotry have no place in our society. To quote from his note to the campus, “We are outraged by deplorable acts of violence against black men and women, and by the structural forms of racism that lead people of color to disproportionately shoulder the burdens of poverty and inequality, which has led to a much higher incidence of illness, job loss and death for their communities in this pandemic.”
Dartmouth is an educational community. Dartmouth is a leading educational community. And I found myself over the course of this past week, asking what I can do better, asking what we can do better. What can we do ourselves to make sure every student on this campus, every member of the faculty, every member of the staff is welcomed, supported, trusted, respected, and honored? As an individual, we all have a role to play. Mine right now is to be part of a team that’s working to support education for all of our students and to find a path towards bringing many of you back to campus so that Dartmouth can remain a place where ideas are developed and tested and where community meaning every single individual is supported and cherished, where our students can learn, lead and go out and change what needs changing, fix what needs fixing and make this the world that we all want to see.
All of our efforts as we work through the challenge of COVID-19 are focused on bringing back this incredible community to this campus and supporting them, supporting you in your education, in your research and in helping us improve the world.
Let me turn now to an operational update. As I said at the beginning, I’d like to spend a few minutes speaking about research and about the reopening of the libraries. Last week, we began an incremental, gradual controlled ramp up of some of the on-campus laboratory research space with first occupancy happening in the morning of Tuesday, May 26.
Overall, first week of phase one operations went well. We now have operational plans from 130 different research groups on campus and vice provost for research, Dean Madden estimates that we’re operating at about 10 to 20% of our research laboratory capacity. We anticipate additional information through the form of an email to principal investigators in the coming days, clarifying some questions that have arisen about de minimis access to facilities and de minimis access to research cores, and also an initial plan for expansion of hours later in June on the Hanover campus to start.
So please pay attention to your email. More information from the taskforce and from Vice Provost Madden will be coming shortly. And a reminder to all who are working in the research laboratories at this point in time, please check in daily before you arrive on campus at dartgo.org/tsa and complete the questionnaire.
In the related area of the libraries, both here through these community conversations and in other conversations on campus, including with the arts and sciences faculty just two days ago, I’ve been asked questions about our plan to reopen the libraries for research and scholarly access. Although, the doors to the library remain closed, the library of course continues to provide mediated access to its physical collections, to support ongoing teaching and research. And that will continue through the summer.
Faculty and students on campus can continue to request items from the collections for curbside pickup in the Novack Cafe area.
In addition, library staff continue to make scan chapters and articles available on request for electronic delivery. The library is currently working with campus partners to develop its COVID-19 safety plan and is working towards a phased reopening that is anticipated to begin in early July.
Assuming local conditions allow for the easing of restrictions access to the Baker Berry Collections will initially be provided for faculty during very limited opening hours and then expanding to the wider Dartmouth community as quickly as possible.
Additional services and operations will be introduced as restrictions further ease and separate plans are being developed for other library spaces on campus details will be announced during the second half of July. In the meantime, laboratory staff continue to facilitate access to information, resources for teaching, learning, and research with a particular emphasis on scholarly work, and of course, teaching that will occur during the summer term.
Now, let me now turn to the area of budgets and also fall term academic planning. Some elements of these are separate, but I’m going to address them collectively today because they are, of course in many ways linked.
Our operations is full, of course, depend upon the number of students we are able to welcome back to campus, and also in part on what our residential operations look like.
I’ve said in the past on many occasions that this fall will not be business as usual operation. Large gatherings, whether for social events, performances, or even gathering of large numbers of students in a single classroom are not likely to occur. We’re working thoughtfully and carefully towards a decision with the June 29 deadline for announcement of our Fall term plans remaining intact.
In parallel, we’re working on a challenging financial picture for the upcoming fiscal year like all of the rest of higher education in this country. For the fiscal year that starts July 1, there remains uncertainty regarding the occupancy of housing, uncertainty regarding the cost of delivering education, which will depend upon our mix of remote and residential operations over the course of the fall term and the ensuing academic year.
The uncertainty of markets, the uncertainty of broader economic conditions and the level of support from generous friends and supporters that help contribute to Dartmouth’s operations through the Dartmouth College Fund.
I, and we continue to meet with different communities and committees, and the president’s senior leadership group to review updated projections on the close of FY20, which ends at the end of this month on FY21 budgets and on developing plans for fall term operations.
One thing I can state today, however, is that it is essential that we tie decisions about budget and FY21 budget to inform decisions about the fall term and next academic years operations. In that, I know that one question that remains on the minds of many is employment.
In early March, we made the commitment to maintain employment through the end of spring term, which meant through the end of June, given that we will not be making decisions on fall term until the end of June, and given the link between operations and budget, we are extending that broad commitment for another month through the end of July. That will give us the time to sort out fall term academic operating plans before needing to make decisions about fall term budgets and operations.
On the academic side, the work of the task force and different working groups continues. The question of fall term versus a full year integrated approach in guiding our thinking is one that has remained very much an active subject of discussion and conversation with the various committees and working groups. And we are moving towards a decision that is much likely to be an integrated full academic year solution later this month.
Our approach to evaluating options remains unchanged. Our task force is helping us address operational decisions, how we manage the facilities, our classrooms, our campus under different scenarios. The healthcare working group is working in coordination with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to help answer the question of how many students we may bring back as that depends in part upon testing, monitoring, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation capabilities.
And on the academic side, we continue to think about the structure of the terms, working primarily with an academic working group, which is the two deans, four arts and sciences associate deans, and the dean of the college, as well as the associate dean responsible for undergraduate education at Thayer.
Now, I’ve been asked at a few points in this past week via the arts and sciences committees to consider faculty input beyond the deans and with input from the committee on organization and policy. This week, we have in fact, added two faculty members, two individuals who are teaching this term to the academic working group to help us think through the match between the curriculum and our residential and remote plans for operations, this upcoming academic year.
The questions they and we need to answer are the ones that I’ve articulated many times in the past, how many students will be on campus? Who and what will we teach? I anticipate having a fair bit more to say on this when we meet again in two weeks on June 17. And as I said, we remain on track to making decisions and announcing them publicly by June 29.
Finally, let me close with a few words on admissions. While we continue to focus on welcoming the class of 2024, we’re mindful of the disruption of COVID-19 on high school students around the globe and how that may impact their thinking, their planning and their preparation for the upcoming college admission season as some of them consider applying to Dartmouth and potentially becoming members of the class of 2025.
This morning, the College Board asked member institutions to, and I quote, “Offer flexibility in admissions this year,” to reflect the global upheaval that the COVID-19 pandemic has created. The College Board acknowledged the challenge of administering the SAT during the upcoming year, particularly in the densely populated areas, hardest hit by COVID-19.
From our perspective and the perspective of the admissions team at Dartmouth, this is an untenable situation and unfair to those students who live in those communities and requires an immediate institutional response. As announced on Dartmouth’s admissions website earlier this afternoon, Dartmouth is therefore enacting a one-year suspension of our standardized testing requirement for candidates seeking undergraduate admission.
Dartmouth College, let me state this as clearly as I can, is now test-optional for prospective members of the class of 2025. And to clarify, optional truly means optional. We do not want anyone to engage in a guessing game as to whether it will be better or worse to submit test scores. It is truly optional. We will not report average test scores for the matriculating class of 2025. It is optional.
Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin has provided details and a statement on the admissions website. And I would encourage anyone with an interest to take a closer look at the details that were posted there earlier this afternoon.
So, let me close simply by saying thank you again to the Dartmouth community. Your work and your commitment to this institution and to our students is truly inspiring. This is a challenging moment for us all, challenging in ways that go far beyond the impact of a global pandemic. But I know that we will pull through this together as a community and be stronger for it.
Thank you very much for joining us again today. And I’m happy to take your questions before we turn to Rick Mills and Lisa Adams for the second part of our discussion. Justin?
Good afternoon, Joe. Nice to see you today.
Thank you, Justin.
I’m going to start with this first question because it’s a direct follow-up to some of the remarks that you just made. So, I think it’s important that the folks who are watching understand exactly what it is you are trying to describe. This question says, “Would you please elaborate on what is meant by ‘integrated full year academic decision’? What does this framework entail, especially with respect to undergraduates coming back to campus?”
Right. So what this means, and I will be fairly limited in what I say in response because our task force and the different working groups, including the academic working group are still looking at different options in ... in this context, but what I mean quite simply is rather than announcing a plan for the fall term and remaining silent on winter, spring and summer terms of the next academic year, we will instead announce our plans for the entire academic year at one time. So, will we be fully residential? Will we be fully remote? Most likely, as I’ve said, at other occasions, we will be operating in a hybrid mode with some students present residentially and some students learning remotely. If we move in that direction, our desire, our goal and our commitment is to find ways so that every student can have a residential experience for at least part of the upcoming academic year.
So that’s what I mean by an integrated approach to the full year. That’s the direction we’re heading, but the details are still being worked out. As I said so much depends upon how many students we are able to safely and comfortably house on campus and teach in our classrooms and laboratories at any one point in time. I will have more to say on that I hope in two weeks, and we certainly remain committed to announcing full details by the end of June.
Joe, you just mentioned that one of the factors in consideration, as you think about how many students can be back on campus, the residential facilities, a questioner asks, what efforts are being made or what plans are there to increase capacity for residential facilities on campus, and specifically, have we considered using the Hanover Inn?
OK, well, we have considered and are considering a full range of options. I know a few campuses that have large numbers of hotels or apartments in the vicinity of the campus are exploring those kinds of opportunities, the available residential or apartment and hotel real estate within walking distance of campus is fairly limited. And so, we are open and considering all sorts of possibilities, but our primary focus is in looking at those facilities that are directly under our control which means the residence halls on campus.
This is one question that sort of echoes questions that we’ve had over the course of the last couple of weeks, but not something that, Joe, you have necessarily addressed head on. And that’s about athletics. How do you make a decision on say the football season? Is this done independently in Hanover or is this an Ivy League decision or an NCAA decision?
And you could extend that beyond just football, but this questioner asks specifically about football.
Right. Well, thanks, Justin. And so athletics is one of the areas in which I do not end up being the person who makes the decision or weighs in on the decision in a significant way, for reasons I think that the person asking the question can well imagine, and I suspect most of our audience can. This needs to be a decision that’s made thoughtfully by the entire athletic conference, by the entire Ivy League. And so, the athletic directors and the college and university presidents have been conferring to figure out what’s appropriate, what’s safe, and how we should think about athletics collectively for the fall season. And so that’s a decision that will not be made by our task force or working group and will not be made by the provost office, but rather is going to be made as a league wide decision. And I anticipate certainly that decision will be coming at some point over the summer. We need to do that well before any of us would be bringing athletes back to campus to begin practicing for the fall season.
When it comes to other institutions now, you just talked about the Ivy League. I’m going to leave the Ivy League for a second and just talk about other institutions within our region. A questioner points out, and I should say, this is something that’s been asked in the past that we just haven’t been able to address. But if you look at institutions in the region, whether it’s University of New Hampshire or University of Vermont, they’re committing already to bring back all of their students for a residential term in the fall. And a questioner points out that Tuck is in fact planning to do that as well. So, given that not only are we in the same region, but also in the case of Tuck on the same campus, what makes the Dartmouth undergraduates so different that we can’t just do the same thing for them that seems to be happening around the region?
Right. I mean, that’s a question I’ve gotten a few times, Justin, and there are, the questioner rightly points out, there are a few institutions who have said they’re bringing all their students back, although they don’t anticipate bringing all their students back will truly mean every student returns, they are offering the opportunity to return to every one of their students. I said in the past that we’ll be informed by what decisions other institutions make, but not bound by them. And in part that’s because every institution’s circumstances are a little bit different. What is the density of their on-campus housing look like? What kind of classroom facilities do they have? Do they have a very high percentage of residential students in the same way that we do? The Tuck School’s a perfect example, although they have offered the opportunity to all of their students to return this year, fewer than half of the Tuck students live in residential facilities on campus.
And so it’s really a mix of available residential housing the number of students at the institution is committed to housing on-campus, available housing in the surrounding region, and how that population mix plays out, as well as some thinking about and planning for the utilization of the academic facilities on campus. So, every institution is different. UNH, as you mentioned, has said that they will be open to all students. They have a lower residential population percentagewise than we do. Other institutions that are in situations similar to ours are thinking about the problem and the challenge in exactly the same way we are. And again, there are some systems like the Cal State system that have said they will be fully remote for the next academic year. So, everyone’s making those decisions based on individual circumstances and the best interest of their particular community and institution. And we’re going about it exactly the same way.
So, sort of a follow-up to that, Joe, recognizing that every campus is different and it’s going to have its own unique set of circumstances, a questioner asks, “What scientific model do you use to determine how many students can be back on campus?” And then it’s a two-part question. And the second part I think is a particularly good question and observation, “How will you make a decision based on current facts and ... how can you make a decision based on current facts and evidence when you know that so much is going to change between now and the fall?” So, you have to make a decision now based on what you know now, and sort of project into the future. So how can you do that in a way that makes you confident that you’re making the right decision?
Yeah, I mean, you’ve put your finger in many ways on the crux of the challenge, right? We are making decisions. We are confident that we are being careful and thoughtful, but there is so much uncertainty around so many parameters in the decision we need to make. And so, we are looking at federal guidance from the CDC. We are looking at state guidance. We are thinking about our particular arrangement of residence halls. We were thinking about, as I said in the past, our residential real estate, how our rooms are structured, whether the best way for us to move forward is to only have individual students in individual rooms, which is a decision that many other campuses are making. What’s the right ratio of students to available bathroom space? These are the kinds of things based on state and federal guidance, here largely federal guidance, that are parameters that determine how densely we can pack our residence halls.
There’s the classroom piece that’s part of this as well. If we want to maintain appropriate social distancing protocols in the classroom, that means many of our classrooms that are designed to house 20 students sitting in close proximity to one another become only minimally functional if we have to maintain 6 feet of separation between every student. So, these are the kinds of things that impact our thinking. These are the kinds of things that are modeling considerations that go into our decisions around the number of students for the fall. Models that project the progression of the disease in different parts of the country, in different part of the world. And here we are looking at an array of models that come from different organizations, different colleges and universities and organizations that are modeling disease progression, are part of our thinking and planning as well.
So it’s actually a really good question and it might be worth bringing it back and putting it in front of Lisa Adams when she joins us in just a few minutes, because Lisa not only is a co-chair of the task force and a physician, but heads the Health and Epidemiology Working Group that’s part of the task force that is seeking to answer exactly those questions and help provide me with recommendations and guidance that will lead to the ultimate decision.
Well, Joe, I don’t want to stand between bringing Lisa and Rick out so you can put that question to her. So, I’ll ask just one more question of you and then we can move on. A questioner asks whether or not funding for undergraduate student opportunities like research grants and internship funding have gone down because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s a good question, Justin. And the honest answer is, I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t believe so. There has not been a conscious decision to adjust the budget of available undergraduate student research funding for the upcoming academic year. But let me get back to you on that. I don’t know the answer. So, thanks Justin, and thank you all for the questions that you’ve written in with, as always.
Let me turn now to our two guests. I’m pleased to be joined by Rick Mills, our EVP for finance and administration, joining us from his home across the river in Vermont, and also by Dr. Lisa Adams of the Geisel School of Medicine and co-chair of our COVID-19 task force. Also joining us from her home in the Upper Valley, across the river in Vermont. Rick, Lisa, good to see you this afternoon. So Lisa, I’m going to start with you actually given the last few questions that I have gotten, and I want to ask you specifically, maybe we can start at a higher level in terms of helping us and helping our viewers understand the thinking that’s going into some of the recommendations around health and epidemiology. Can you give us just first a high-level update on the status of the pandemic locally and in New Hampshire and Vermont?
Things have changed quite a bit since you were with us five weeks ago in the first of these community conversations.
Indeed. So, as you know, I continue to follow the local data very closely. And for the most part, the news is good news and the trends are very promising. Data from New Hampshire and Vermont show that both states have successfully flattened their epidemiologic curves, which doesn’t mean that there aren’t no new cases each day, but that the rates are fairly constant. So, New Hampshire, for example, is still adding about 50 to 100 new cases each day to its current case count, giving us a total today of just under 1,700 active cases, an accumulative total of about 4,800 cases since the start of our disease surveillance. Now, Vermont is in even better shape adding just about one to five new cases a day and some days no new cases for a total of 109 active cases as of today, an accumulative total of just under 1,000. In Grafton County where Hanover sits, the numbers are also quite encouraging and there have actually been less than 35 cases in total in Hanover and Lebanon combined.
Now, there still are some counties and pockets where outbreaks are still occurring in New Hampshire, particularly in the southernmost counties, those along the Massachusetts border and in some of our long-term care facilities in the state. But the last bit of news on this front that I do want to share is the positive epidemiologic analysis that recently came from WHO’s international modeling group, which indicates that the R0, remember that’s the measure of infectiousness and likelihood for ongoing disease transmission, well the R0 for New Hampshire has come down to a level indicating that the epidemic is declining, and if we continued on this trajectory would eventually peter out. So, all of the things that those of us who are still in the Upper Valley have been doing, staying at home, practicing physical distancing, wearing face coverings, all of those things have paid off and have worked. Of course, now our challenge is to follow the data as the stay-at-home restrictions and other restrictions are relaxed.
Right. Thanks Lisa. So, does that mean ... if I could ask a follow-up, does that mean that R0 has dropped below one in the region or not quite, but trending in that direction?
It’s right around one right now. So, and seemingly to be trending to drop below one. That’s exactly correct.
Great. Well, I had not heard that. That’s great news. Thanks very much, Lisa. So, Rick, let me turn to you with the next question and as EVP for finance and administration, you oversee many, many of the staff on campus. If you don’t mind, could you just quickly describe the areas you oversee and then offer just a few comments on what you’re hearing from staff, both in regard to working at home and also more generally how they’re navigating, given all the uncertainty through this pandemic and through our work at home operations.
Sure. Thanks, Joe. It’s nice to be here and thanks for the opportunity to join, folks. So on the breadth of my oversight, it’s finance and administration, which includes as you might expect most of the financial functions of the college, human resources, campus services, which is a broad unit that includes facilities, dining, construction, and many other elements of sort of day-to-day campus life, risk and audit services, and safety and security. And I think it’s been an interesting experience. I’ve been on many Zoom calls with different parts of the organization, and I think all of our staff are experiencing the stress and anxiety of the current times of COVID. I would say the adaptation to remote work has been remarkably good. There is work getting done, folks are finding a way to settle in. I think the places that we see challenges are often folks at home with small children. We hear the same thing from faculty, folks at home with teenagers that are trying to finish high school. That’s a difficult thing when you’re sharing a house and a DSL connection and four people are on Zoom. But for the most part, it’s worked well.
One of the interesting things is we had started in finance or remote work opportunity before this ever happened. So, a portion of our staff had already become comfortable with this idea and they’ve actually helped others and other colleagues become more comfortable with it. Seems to be working well. I think the concerns we hear are what you referenced at the beginning, everybody’s concerned about employment, understandably, what’s the future? You used the word uncertainty in your opening remarks and the degree of things that we are uncertain about. I think it makes it hard to provide the certainty that people wish they had. But that uncertainty is what folks are grappling with most, although I think they understand where it originates.
Thanks. Can I ask you a follow-up question, Rick? One of the things that I’m often asked as we think about staff and the transition to work from home in early March, which we have continued and of course is continuing, is now that we have started to gradually open in a phased way the research laboratories, and as I said earlier today, we are starting to think about and perhaps will move in early July too beginning to reopen in a phased and staged and controlled way the libraries. What about more broadly bring staff back to campus? Can you say anything about the thinking and planning there?
Sure, I think it starts with the fact that even when we went remote in March, we’ve had a cohort of staff working on the campus throughout this time period. And we’ve learned a lot managing and working with those folks around, how do we set up workspaces for appropriate social distance? How do we think about cleaning cycles? What’s necessary to support the kinds of measures that will make it safe and reasonable to bring people back? Managers are now talking about how we expand that to have more folks on campus to deliver more of the services that will be needed to support the library opening, more laboratories functioning. And I think it’s a matter of scale.
It’s really taking what we know now and thinking about given constrained space and time, how do we scale up occupancy and keep people safe. A lot of work has gone into rearranging workspaces, thinking about just different routine matters like punching into a time clock, that becomes a focal point for transmission. So how do we open that up and create more distance? What apps can we provide? So those are the kinds of things we’re working on.
Great. Thanks, Rick. So, Lisa, somewhat related to that. But I want to turn back to you and actually word it a little bit differently but pose to you a question you may have heard that was put to me at the end. First let me ask you, what guidance are you and are we getting from the CDC in the state of New Hampshire? How frequently are we in contact with them? And how is that guiding your thinking and forming the basis of recommendations that you then send my way?
Sure. Let me respond to that and then I’m happy to also talk about some of the models that we’ve been looking at specifically. So, I continue to monitor the CDC guidance, most of it’s available on their website and actually attended a CDC webinar just this past Friday that was specifically devoted to the topic of reopening college and university campuses. But keep in mind that CDC guidance is just that. It is broad guidance that our task force and my health and Epi team will review and discuss and figure out how best to apply it to our setting.
So, the CDC will suggest things like colleges and universities should consider implementing several strategies to encourage behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19. And those behaviors include things like staying at home if you’re ill, or reinforcing good hand hygiene, or wearing cloth face coverings and many of the things that we’ve already been doing quite diligently. And in terms of interactions with the New Hampshire state health department, we are in quite regular contact via telephone or through weekly infectious disease sections Zoom meetings that I attend, along with the state epidemiologist and the deputy state epidemiologist who are both medical school clinical faculty and my colleagues at the medical center.
The state is planning to issue guidance for higher-ed, which we are eagerly awaiting. And in the meantime, we’re also likely to schedule a one-on-one consultation to seek their input and guidance on our specific plans for the fall and beyond. And then in terms of modeling, on our health and Epi working group, I have infectious disease specialists. I have the head of the Dartmouth College Health Services and a colleague from the epidemiology department.
She’s actually worked quite a bit with her team in epidemiology and some of her graduate students to help us really synthesize the many models that are out there and figure out, again, how do we apply them to our setting to what we can expect in New Hampshire or in the Upper Valley community. And it’s challenging because the models have certain assumptions that we have to make sure are appropriate for our setting. And most of the models project out just about a month, one will go out to about three months. But as soon as you get several months out, the data, the results get a little bit less reliable, a little bit harder to know how much stock to put into those numbers.
So you already touched on the tension that we’re all feeling of wanting to wait as long as possible to make decisions because we want to have as much data and information as possible, but also wanting to make decisions in a timely fashion so that everyone can plan accordingly including what we need to do for campus operations to proceed. So, we are working very closely, and I feel like we have the right experts at the table as well. You have mentioned too our health management group in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center colleagues, also looking at this information to try to help provide us guidance. So, I feel like we’ve got the right people at the table and trying to make the best decisions that we can on the best available data that we have.
Thanks, Lisa. So, let me stay with you for a minute for a follow-up question before I turn that back to Rick for one or two other questions. So as the taskforce thinks about synthesizing all this data, and providing recommendations and ultimately thinking about bringing students back to campus, as well as faculty and staff coming back to campus in larger numbers, how’s the taskforce thinking about testing as part of the protocol for return to work or return to campus?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And this is a major consideration for us at the moment, and certainly where I’m spending a lot of my time these days. I want to make sure that we develop a rational and robust testing algorithm for everyone in our community. So, students if and when we invite them back, and of course our faculty and staff. You’ll just indulge me for a moment, I just want to clarify that there’s really three major types of tests that are available today. Just to go through those quickly, there’s the PCR test which detects viral genetic material and is used to diagnose those with active COVID-19 disease. And then there’s antigen testing, which is sort of the newest kid on the block.
The first test was approved just about a month ago, which is also used to diagnose active disease by detecting these viral protein fragments and can produce results in minutes. So that has a lot of great appeal. And then lastly, the serology testing, which I know many of us have been hearing a lot about, and that detects antibodies to the virus and that’s really used to indicate prior infection. So, several of these tests and testing platforms have been issued. Emergency use authorization, that’s the FDA’s way of fast tracking these diagnostics so that we can begin using them clinically.
We’re still learning a lot about the reliability of these tests and how best to use them. So again, we’re in active discussion with our Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center partners to understand also testing availability and capacity both today and what they predict for the fall and beyond, to really help us figure out what will be our best approaches to testing. This is a very quickly evolving space. And we want to make sure that the testing we put in place is practical, it’s feasible, it’s acceptable, it’s reliable. And we really want to make those decisions based on the best emerging science.
So, for example, we don’t yet know enough about the meaning of a positive antibody test to say it in fact, it provides you this “immunity passport.” And this is especially true looking at data that just was published in the last week or so out of New York City that showed that 33% of those who had confirmed COVID disease and had antibodies, the 33% did not have the necessary neutralizing antibodies. Those are the antibodies that would actually provide protection. So, there’s still lots that we are learning here.
What we do know is that we can guarantee enough capacity to ensure testing will be available for everyone in our Dartmouth community who develop symptoms consistent with COVID. And that would include students if and when we invite them back to campus. But we’re going to continue to follow the advances in this space and explore all of our options as we develop what I’m calling our robust testing algorithm.
Thanks, Lisa. I look forward to seeing what you and the taskforce recommend as we get closer to the end of June. This is obviously an important consideration in our final decisions and our operational decisions for the fall. So, Rick, let me turn to you with just one or two final quick questions, and then we’ll turn it over to Justin to raise some of the questions that have come in from the community. The financial challenge facing higher ed, certainly the financial challenge facing Dartmouth is on everyone’s mind, particularly as it focuses on employment, as I said earlier in my opening remarks. As I mentioned, we’ve made the commitment to extend our employment commitment from the end of June through the end of July so we can factor full term planning into all of our decisions around budget and operations.
One of the questions that I’ve gotten, and I suspect you’ve gotten as well is how are we thinking about the employment picture for next year? And if we did need to move to a position where we weren’t supporting the same level of employment, would we consider something like an early retirement option first? So, could you comment on how you and human resources are thinking about that as we look ahead to next year?
Sure. I think there are two pieces to this one. There’s a faculty and staff element. The faculty have access to and continue to something called FRO or faculty retirement option that I think is serving that purpose, which is not yet available to staff. And we are now actively in discussions around what a staff early retirement program would look like. Nothing’s been decided. But I think it’s fair to characterize the discussions as promising. I think there’s a lot of general interest in support for the idea of an early retirement program, the shape of it, the dimensions of what age, how many years of service, how big is the reward for the early retirement, those are all yet to be determined. But it’s something we’re currently working on and I think we can expect we would see.
Thanks. So last question, Rick. I’ll put to you a question that has often been put to me, particularly from faculty, but I know it’s a question of interest to staff as well. Any update on the Dartmouth Child Care Center as we think about that potentially being available sometime over the course of the summer as we look ahead to fall?
Well, let me start by referencing back to the stresses people feel with young children at home, trying to manage whatever their work is. So, I get it, we get it. There are ongoing discussions with the director of the Child Care Center, who’s assessing both the New Hampshire childcare regulations, the physical layout of our facility, and the readiness of our staff to think about how we would reopen and in what dimension. I think in the course of those discussions, what’s become clear as much what you described for the rest of Dartmouth, which is, we are not likely to be able to reopen with the same sort of program and population of students that we had before COVID.
But clearly, social distancing health requirements are going to require a dramatic reduction in the number of children served. So, what we’re working on now is how many could we tolerate and support? How many can we safely provide care for? And in particular, how do we protect the workers who are in the rooms moving from room to room? What’s allowable? And that’s an ongoing conversation that I expect we’ll know more in the next several weeks. And actually, a couple of faculties after the arts and sciences meeting, very helpfully suggested the idea of an advisory board of current parents. I’m now working with them to think about how we would put that together so that parents at the center could actually begin to have input in discussions with us as we think about how to reopen.
Great. Thanks. Thanks very much, Rick and Lisa. Thank you. So, Justin, why don’t we turn it back to you for any questions that might be coming in from outside.
Thanks a lot, Joe. Rick, I think we’ll stay with you for the first question. So, despite what Joe said about continuing our employment commitment through the end of July, we’re still getting a lot of questions from nervous people about layoffs and furloughs. And specifically, folks want to know basically when they’ll know. I think that there’s an assumption that it’s going to happen. And if it is going to happen, when? That’s what people seem to really want to know.
Yeah. I think I start with the word uncertainty. I guess the first thing I’ll say is, I get it. I completely understand everybody in the Dartmouth community has a concern about their place in the community, their ability to support their family. And those are really hard things to be worried about. The second thing I would say is, there’s no plan that is held centrally, that nobody knows about that. In fact, when Joe used the word uncertainty, a lot of our planning is trying to see where those different elements of uncertainty resolve in terms of how many students do we have back, how rapidly are we ramping up, what’s what does the campus look like in the fall, what do we need to be ready to staff for.
And I think once we know some of those parameters, we’ll have a clearer picture of what the forward future looks like in terms of financial circumstances and employment. And I think we will try to be as current as we can releasing information that Joe knows, and I know, that when we announced we’re continuing employment through July 31, all that does is move the same amount of anxiety to Aug. 1 that was there for July 1. And the sooner that we can help bring some resolution to that, the better for everybody. But we don’t want to do more than is necessary. And we want to do it based on fact.
Lisa, over to you. Your comment about having flattened the curve in the area definitely caught people’s attention. Because a number of questions have come in about that. And not surprisingly, those questions are, I think, based in a lot of anxiety about what that means in terms of, well, what about the fact that New Hampshire and Vermont are just barely opening up. So how do we know that the curve is flattened, given that we’ve all basically been spending as much time indoors in our houses, not being in contact with anybody else for the last couple of months?
Remember too, the epidemiological concept of flattening the curve is, in many ways, about keeping it flat. Which is what we want to do now. But what we really want to do is start to see it decline on the other side and may be approaching that point. What I think we’re going to try to do now, what we’re seeing across both states is some relaxing of some of the stay-at-home order and restrictions and trying to reopen in a very careful and intentional way. Now, face coverings are recommended at places, any establishments, any restaurants or outdoor seating and tables six feet apart.
It’s still incumbent upon us to do our part. Right? And to still make really wise choices about making sure that we have face coverings when we’re exiting, making sure that we are dining within our household units so that we are not having contact with others outside of our unit. The more that we can limit our interactions with others, the best that we will do in terms of keeping that curved flat.
As I said, it’s not that we have zero new cases, zero new cases today or yesterday, or for tomorrow in the state, there is still community transmission in the state. So, we still have to be really careful if this... This reopening has to be very gradual and very intentional. Right? This is not an announcement that allows us to go out and make unwise choices. It’s not permission to do that. So, I hope that that helps clarify what I think the responsibility that rests with all of us is still is.
Rick, back to you with another question about staff, does it seem likely that many staff will remain working remotely through the fall-term unless they provide direct services to students? And then somewhat relatedly, a question that I’ve heard a lot around campus, or from people who are either working on campus or have to go back to campus. And that’s about masks. Whether or not masks are optional, or whether they’re required?
I think in many ways, those are ultimately questions I’ll be taking guidance from the task force and Lisa on. But that said, I think one of the things we’ve learned going through this is the college actually functions quite well on some dimensions with people working remotely. As I mentioned at the beginning, we had started an experiment with some workers in the finance areas who did work remotely from home some days of the week.
And I think, inevitably, as we come through this after the epidemiologic concerns are abated, I think we’ve learned that we would like to explore more on the working at home front for those kinds of workers who can deliver services. It may not be the right thing to do every day, all week, but I think going forward, you’ll see more.
Lisa, back to you again with the question about the status of infection in the Upper Valley, a questioner points out that it seems like one way to disrupt that would be to bring students from all over the globe back to Hanover. That seems like a risky proposition, this questioner points out. Likewise, when the Dartmouth Coach starts rolling again, you’re going to have a daily influx of people coming in, not just from Boston and New York, but from wherever they were before that. And this questioner says isn’t the safest thing to do for the Upper Valley community just to limit anyone from coming in for as long as possible.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sure. Let me see if I can answer it this way. The only way that we could know that there might not be any further transmission in our communities is if we were all to stay home, and have items delivered to our households until there’s a vaccine. I think if you’ve listened to any of the governor’s press conferences, either from New Hampshire, Vermont, or from New York, that we recognize that we want to be smart and intentional about our reopening.
And that’s, I think, the best thing that we can do to allow us to pace ourselves for the long haul that we know that we’re in. And to think about what we’re probably going to see across all towns and cities across the country is this sort of staccato approach to some of the stay-at-home orders and restrictions.
So, we may start to loosen things up and our states and cities. And then if we start to see increases in cases, we may have to reenact some of the tighter restrictions. And we are expecting there to be the sort of staccato approach to the public health interventions that we’ve all been following so closely, on and off really until we are at a place where we have a vaccine.
In terms of thinking about bringing students back to campus. Absolutely. We are thinking about that very carefully, and we’ll want to do it, if we do decide to do it, in the safest way possible. So lots of considerations about; if we do it, what number, how we would do it, what do we need to have in terms of testing, contact tracing, to make sure that we are protecting everyone in our community, not just our students and employees, but the broader Upper Valley community. That is absolutely a consideration in our decision making. So, I do want to emphasize that
Rick, back to you, a questioner is asking sort of a follow-up to something that you said earlier about working remotely. And this questioner says, for Rick given “how remarkably-well” the adoption to remote work has gone, will you and Dartmouth in the future think about hiring staff who would be hired to work remotely, basically hiring people that would never set foot on campus or only set foot on campus rarely, because they might not need to be here in order to do their jobs?
Sure. It’s a great question. I think in the abstract, the answer is, yes with a whole lot of caveats. I think we want to start by demonstrating and getting comfortable with the right ways to do it in a kind of blended approach where people are here, but also work from home. I think we’ve talked about the fact that it opens up the opportunity for recruiting certain kinds of, not obscure, but limited expertise that may not be readily available in the Upper Valley.
That would give us a tool to think in certain disciplines or areas of need to be able to hire somebody with that expertise who didn’t happen to be here. I think we’re several years away, and there are all kinds of complicated tax reporting implications of having more and more people working in other states.
I got a question on my feed, just wanting to know why you’re starting to look more like me as the COVID crisis goes on?
Mills, I asked the questions around here, so I’d appreciate it if you’d let me handle that.
Lisa, we’re going to end with a question for you. I think this questioner is responding to your description of tests that we will be providing in the fall. And this person wants to know about (asymptomatic) carriers and how are we accounting for that, basically, if we’re only testing, or primarily testing, for people who present symptoms?
Right. The testing of asymptomatic individuals is still an area that’s, again, the science is emerging. We are getting a better understanding of which, if any, tests are most appropriate to use in that population. And as I think I said, we are really looking at the data and science to guide us in what kind of testing algorithm we will put into place. And so, we haven’t ruled out testing asymptomatic individuals by any means. It’s one of the things that will be taken into consideration. So, figuring how often people will be tested, what frequency, which test we’ll be using, are tests a combination of tests. That’s another option too. All of those things are under consideration. Absolutely.
I will, to just emphasize that, none of our testing or contact tracing, which we know will be part of our approach as well, none of that will actually be a replacement for strict adherence, the strictest adherence possible, to the behavioral changes that we all know we have to make. I just really think it’s worth emphasizing that, as we think about welcoming more people back to our campus community, and this kind of gets back to the last question, I really do want to think about our sort of social contract that we make and this commitment that we need to be making to how we take care of each other.
Especially in light of recent events, thinking more about what unites us than divides us. But I really feel like we’re only going to be successful with our testing approaches, our contact tracing, and everything we’re doing, if we are also willing to really strictly follow the behavioral changes, the public health interventions of wearing face coverings, keeping a social-distance of six feet or more, practicing, good hand hygiene. All those things that we have been doing that have allowed us to be so successful in the Upper Valley to date.
Thank you very much Lisa. And thank you very much Rick. Appreciate your time and your input. We had a lot of great questions today. For those of you who did not get your questions answered, keep asking. I’m going to try to get to as many questions as I can in future episodes. And please do not hesitate to go to the COVID-19 website, which you can find off of the Dartmouth homepage. There’s an area there for you to submit questions and you will get a response. So, thanks so much for watching and thanks for your great, great questions. Back to you, Joe.
Great. Justin, thank you. And Rick, Lisa, thanks for joining us today. This concludes this week’s community conversation. As I mentioned last week, we will be taking a one-week pause next week. And we will be returning with the next Community Conversation at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 17. Until then, be healthy and safe, everyone. And we look forward to joining you in two weeks. Thank you.