Welcome everyone to our 13th Community Conversation, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost of Dartmouth College, joining you as always from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library on a Wednesday afternoon, but a sunny, Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 16. I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio here on campus. And today Justin and I will be joined by Michael Wooten, the associate dean of residential life and the director of residential education, who’s been at Dartmouth working with students for more than nine years. And by our frequent guest, Lisa Adams MD, who is in her 18th year as a faculty member in the Geisel School of Medicine, a specialist in the care and treatment of infectious TB, and the co-chair of Dartmouth’s COVID-19 taskforce. We’ll follow our usual format with a campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Mike and Lisa, and finally a chance for them to answer your questions directly.
As I sat down last night to put together notes on things I hope to convey today, I realized that for perhaps the first time since we began these conversations in April, our focus today can be entirely on operational updates, there are no major decisions to announce. There are things we’re working on of course, decisions about fall term and planning for winter term and beyond, but those will be addressed in the weeks ahead. Today, we can simply acknowledge that after weeks of nonstop planning and decision making, whether you’re with us in Hanover or studying remotely or working from home, fall term has arrived.
Campus, of course, has been quietly returning to life since late May with graduate students and research scientists returning to labs in the first phase of reopening and busy continuously since with some 500 to 600 utilizing campus facilities at any given time. Medical students, MBA students, engineering MEM students and new graduate students from across campus have been joining them over the past two months, such that now the total numb,er of graduate and professional students is approximately 1,700 with the majority of those living off campus.
But perhaps the biggest news and apparent to all is that undergraduate students began returning to campus a little over a week ago. With first year students and members of the Class of 2024 and their residence hall advisors or UGAs arriving first, followed by returning students later in the week. All told approximately half the undergraduate student body will be in residence, meaning approved for residential this fall with a similar number invited back for winter term. And with the arrival of these new and returning students testing is well underway.
Now, as you know, Dartmouth contracted with a provider externally to conduct pre-arrival COVID tests for all domestic undergraduates invited to campus for the fall term. In the end, as reported on the Dartmouth COVID dashboard, which we will discuss with Lisa Adams a little later this afternoon, more than 1,600 students were screened. And those who tested positive, regardless of whether they were symptomatic, were asked to remain at home for the necessary home isolation period before traveling to campus. On campus over 6,000 tests have been conducted to date with undergraduate students being tested on arrival, day zero, on day three, and on day seven. This testing has been possible because of the tremendous work of our task force in planning and of the staff of Dartmouth College Health Services, Dick’s House, in carrying out the testing in coordination with over 100 employees who volunteered their time to help. A total of two positives have been detected to date equaling 0.03% of the tests conducted, and these have been reported on our dashboard.
We will continue to update these numbers and report them publicly on our dashboard every Monday and Thursday. These percent positive results are consistent with those we have seen on campuses at peer institutions, including NESCAC colleges in rural New England, our state universities in New Hampshire and Vermont and research university peers that have brought students back to their campuses. The NESCAC institutions, because of the size of their student body and their rural location are noteworthy in that nearly all are presently at 0.03% positivity rate, the level we are seeing here in Dartmouth.
Arrival testing will conclude shortly as we pass the day seven point for all on campus students, and with that weekly surveillance testing will begin next week and will continue for all students throughout the term. It’s worth emphasizing for our campus and for our local community that all students living locally in the defined communities will be included in this testing protocol. As those employees who are authorized to work on campus know, employee testing is also well underway. All Dartmouth employees authorized to work on campus are being tested. Those who are in student facing positions will be tested weekly, and those who are authorized to work on campus five days per week will also be tested weekly. Employees who are on campus for a fraction of the week will be tested every other week and employees that only need to be on campus on rare occasions to pick up supplies, will be contacted by HR for periodic testing. To avoid long lines and the need to wait for testing, employees will receive an email to register for specific testing appointments.
Our current operations remain at the limited access level as indicated on our Dartmouth COVID-19 site, so those employees whose job allows them to work remotely should continue to do so. At this time, approximately 1,100 employees are authorized to work onsite, which means that three quarters of our workforce is continuing to work from home. For students, faculty, and staff alike, another important part of our campus plan is the Temperature Self-Assessment or TSA. Now it’s important to remember the daily completion of this is needed, anyone who is accessing the campus, including living on campus, is expected to complete this each and every day they will access the campus. If you’re living on campus, you were therefore required by definition to complete the health screening daily.
Since this is a self-assessment, you may of course take your temperature at home before you come to campus. For those who may forget on occasion or do not have access to a thermometer, Dartmouth has installed non-contact wall-mounted infrared thermometers in 32 locations on campus, as I mentioned two weeks ago. Everyone then needs to complete the TSA questions online by going to dartgo.org/tsa. It generally takes less than a minute to complete and this is an important part of our focus on collective community health as we manage operations with a de-densified campus.
Now related to this, I know that questions have arisen over the course of the past two weeks from students and employees alike regarding travel outside of the local region, including day trips in a personal vehicle, and specifically the question of whether they can test out of the quarantine requirements. This is not an exam where it’s possible to get an exemption from the final, while travel related restrictions differ for employees, graduate and professional students and undergraduate students because of the congregate living structure of undergraduate housing, no one, employees included, may test out of the quarantine requirement after traveling outside of the designated area. State requirements also apply, differ depending upon whether your local residence is New Hampshire or Vermont, and in some cases may be more restrictive than Dartmouth campus requirements, you must comply with both. Travel outside of the area, even for employees is therefore strongly discouraged. All of this is explained on our COVID-19 website, you can see the link from the main page entitled travel and visitors.
Now, while we recognize, and I recognize, that this is a limitation we are imposing on all, I ask that we all remember that this is a moment where we are asking everyone, not just our undergraduate students, to sacrifice some individual freedom in support of the greater community good. Particularly, as Vermont and New Hampshire continue to report low current levels of COVID-19 infection relative to much of the rest of the country, it matters.
Let me turn now to a brief update on access to Dartmouth libraries before closing, and then taking your questions. Now, the library where I sit today is of course, central to our research and teaching mission, and will soon be welcoming undergraduate students to its floors, expanding on the access currently provided to faculty, staff and graduate students through its phased reopening plan. That access for undergraduates will begin on Saturday, the 26th of September. after the arrival quarantine period comes to a close.
Because this isn’t a typical fall term the library will operate differently with limits on the number of individuals present at any one time consistent with our emphasis on de-densifying facilities in support of the health and safety of the Dartmouth community. Beginning next week for employees and graduate students and continuing after Sept. 26, when undergraduate students begin to access the library, entrance to Baker-Berry Library for everyone will be through the Novack Cafe area as it is today, but exit will be through Baker Library.
Not all library spaces will be open, some library spaces and services will open probably prior appointment only. And the library itself will be introducing a new reservation system for Baker-Berry Library so that undergraduate students can reserve a three-hour slot if they wish to study or spend time doing research in Baker-Berry. There’ll also be an option to book a 30-minute slot for collection access in taking out books. Faculty and staff won’t be required to make a reservation, but this will allow the library to monitor occupancy rates and shared access and will let students who want to spend time studying and Baker-Berry plan ahead. Access to the building will continue to be via the Dartmouth ID card for all faculty staff and all students authorized to be on campus. Detailed information on this and more be sent in the next few days and all updates are always available on the library’s website.
Now, in closing, I know there are questions about how we as a campus respond to students, undergraduate and graduate alike, whose actions run counter to our community expectations, expectations that are clearly outlined in the document our students have been asked to sign and expectations, which I will trust, are clearly understood by all. To the broader community, know that we are actively following up on all complaints and reports that we receive and acting in accordance with the community expectations agreement, and this is true for all students undergraduate and graduate alike. Please understand however that we can’t in won’t comment on any specific individuals as a matter of longstanding policy.
To our student community, whether it’s a question of travel or group gatherings or wearing your mask, know the restrictions, know the expectations and abide by them. Please err on the side of masking up, even when you may not need to. I ask of all of us, let’s be thoughtful and let’s think about the greater good. As I said last week, or two weeks ago in our last community conversation, what we do now, particularly these weeks as we navigate quarantine and the start of classes and a return to residential operations will define us. The community is counting on us. Let’s show everyone that this can be done.
Now, last week I had the chance to spend some time at the testing tent on the first day of operations. Last Tuesday, the day undergraduate students began to arrive, I was struck at first by the upbeat attitude and the incredible work of the volunteers in the Dick’s House team, making lines under the testing tent largely non-existent. And I was also struck time and again, by the enthusiasm of new students. For those of you who weren’t there, just imagine getting dropped off as an 18-year-old by your parents or from the coach right next to a testing tent, masking up and immediately moving to check in and get swabbed. Not by any stretch your typical college moving experience; certainly not what any of these students imagined even a year ago as they were submitting their applications to Dartmouth.
But as I walked the line, asking a series of check-in questions and screening forehead temperatures, I took a few moments to chat with most of the students I encountered. After asking them the TSA questions, I’d often ask them final question, “What brought you here to Dartmouth?” They were all behind masks, but you could hear it in their voices, and you could see it in their eyes. They were, and they are thrilled to be here, even with the changes, even with the restrictions. And when they told me what brought them to campus this fall, this place, which they know they will experience in different ways than they had imagined before. This community, where people look out for one another and who are all deeply invested in student education. And this faculty, brilliant scholars in their fields who are committed to teaching the individual student to a degree that they see and that we know is distinctive to Dartmouth.
Those of you who are studying from home this fall, your time on campus will come soon. The faculty and the staff are deeply committed to your education, regardless of whether you’re in Hanover or thousands of miles away. While our focus today has been on campus operations this week, it’s important to remember that fall orientation was conducted last week for all new students in the Class of 2024, including those who are unable to be with us in Hanover this fall. That classes are underway this week for all Dartmouth students, with over 800 classes being delivered, the vast majority delivered largely or completely remotely to be accessible to all members of our student community. That while our center and institute directors will be offering opportunities for students physically present in Hanover to engage with their work, they are equally focused on opportunity for those who cannot join us in person. Great example, being the Hopkins Center, the Hop, which in just the next eight days, starting tomorrow, is welcoming through virtual events the entire student community. Conversations with filmmakers and alumni, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the Class of ’97, with journalist Jake Tapper, Dartmouth Class of 1991. Co-hosted with Dartmouth’s Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and in collaboration with the Montgomery Fellows Program, a fireside chat with daily show host, Trevor Noah.
To our students, borrowing from the message president Phil Hanlon conveyed to the community this weekend, we are thrilled to have you back, whether by remote learning or in person. We’re excited and ready to get on with the business of learning, the business of discovering, and the business of creating something new. We are truly thrilled to have you here. Welcome back, Dartmouth. Thanks to everyone for all of your help in getting ready for this moment, this return to residential educational operations this fall for graduate and undergraduate students alike, and I look forward to working with all of you towards and for a successful fall term. With that, Justin, I turn to you and I’d be happy to take any questions that have come in.
Thanks so much, Joe. We’ll just dive in with a reference to what you just said about being thrilled to have students back on campus. A viewer writes in: How have students who are back on campus generally been responding to the guidelines and restrictions. Does it appear that given the current low numbers of positive tests and student behavior, that we have a chance of getting through the term with students on campus for the duration?
My answer to that question, do we have a chance of getting through the term with students on campus for the duration is absolutely yes. We have seen ... as I walk around campus, Anderson, just even walking over here to the studio today, I was counting the number of students that I passed and I thought, you know, I’m an engineer. I like to collect data. I got up to 35 students. Thirty-five of them were wearing masks. And I thought it’s not worth counting any further. Everyone is taking that seriously. Those who were walking not alone were spaced by 6 feet by and large. The groups that were gathered on the green, not many of them, but were sitting appropriate distances apart.
And this is only a few examples, but when I’ve spoken to my advisees by Zoom who are going through the quarantine period and ask them how it’s going, they said, “You know, it’s hard, but I’m happy to be here.” This was late last week. Over the weekend, they’re looking forward to the start of classes this term. Their attitude strikes me as exactly right. And that was, as I said a minute ago, reflected in the conversations I was having with students under the testing tent just a week ago. I mean, I know here and there, there will be challenges that we need to address, but I’m really optimistic about the way the student community is engaged. I’m optimistic that we are going to have a successful fall term.
That’s great to hear, Joe. Given the optimism that you just expressed, I’m going to push you a little bit with this next question. What is the percent likelihood that large gatherings, you know, in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 4,000 can happen with people from across the country and round the girdled earth that would come back to Dartmouth? This person is referencing June, so I assume they’re referring to commencement. It’s a long way off, but does your optimism extend that far out?
June is a long way away, Justin, so that’s a really good question. And that’s of course something that we’re thinking about and talking about internally, and I think it’s too early to answer that question. There is optimism on the vaccine front, in development and deployment of a vaccine, and significant reduction in the caseload globally and certainly nationally is going to be required before we can make a decision on commencement. That’s a decision that I think we can leave open until well into winter term, perhaps even early into spring term. And that’s consistent with the timelines that many public health experts and vaccine development experts are saying consistent with the timeline that we may well see deployment of a vaccine or vaccines. And so, I remain open to the possibility and hopeful that that will happen. I think there’s enough time that it’s a distinct possibility.
So, the first two questions, your answers to the first two questions suggest that there’s some variability and that things are going to happen that we are going to have to react to that could change how we implement our plan over the course of the term and the year. The questioner here wonders why courses were offered as hybrids or in person, but that they have now been changed to online only. And so, it seems to me that this is something that’s going to be happening throughout the course of the year. We’re going to have plans. We’re going to say that we are going to do things in a certain way, but I would imagine depending upon circumstances that may have to change. Is that fair?
Yeah, that’s absolutely fair. I mean, we have to ... the only certainty in some ways is uncertainty. Meaning we know that we have to react to changing events, changing progression of the disease locally and nationally. We have to be very attentive to the circumstances here on campus, and we are committed, as President Hanlon and I have said from the beginning, to putting the health and safety of the community, the broader Dartmouth and Upper Valley community, first and foremost. There have actually not been many changes in the delivery of courses for fall term. There have been some classes that were planned to be offered in person. And over the course of the past week, changes were made, and those courses are now going to be offered remote only. There are also courses that were planned to be through remote learning that are now being offered in person.
So, on balance, the numbers have not changed significantly. The number of classes that were going to be delivered fully residentially have been fairly small since the curriculum was announced, the course catalog was announced over a month ago. In part, that’s because of our desire to make the curriculum available and accessible to the majority of our students who are not here with us in Hanover, and to enable them to continue their high-quality Dartmouth education through the fall. There’s a much larger number of classes that are accessible remotely, but have some hybrid, some in person elements, and that number hasn’t changed substantially. And so, I think this is something where you will see evolution on a week by week basis as we go over the course of the term. As I’ve said in the past, I’m hopeful that if we navigate this month successfully, this first month successfully, there will be more and more faculty who are willing to meet with students one-on-one outdoors or get a small group of students together under a tent to discuss something in a form of outdoor office hours. Personally, I’m hoping to be able to have meetings with my advisees in person outdoors, under a tent or walking across the green six feet separating the two of us after we get past the quarantine period. I’m confident that we’re going to see more and more of that if we are able to navigate these first several weeks successfully,
Joe, this question is ... It’s very specific coming from one individual, but I suspect many people have this question. “I am an employee working from home. Can I come into campus for personal reasons or do I need to seek permission to do so?”
We ask at this point that you check with your supervisor and seek permission to do so. We are being very conscious, and in some ways, the rules and regulations seem over overly restrictive. And I understand that, but that is really because they were designed with an emphasis first and foremost on knowing who’s on campus at any given time and keeping the numbers limited, keeping the campus de-densified. And so, I would say check with your supervisor. Different units are starting to develop plans in gaining permission to bring numbers of employees back to the campus in staggered shifts or small numbers. As I said earlier, when mentioning the status of employee testing, three quarters of our employees are still working from home. A quarter of our employees are working on campus. Of that three quarters who are working from home, there may well be important reasons where occasional campus access is needed. And we are entering the phase where that can be considered. Reach out to your supervisor first, and then she or he will consult with the task force who’s managing facilities access as needed.
Joe, there are a lot of questions, probably the most questions about the dashboard and about numbers that people are seeing on the dashboard. I know that we have Lisa coming up, so let’s take one more question for you and then we’ll wait until we hear from Lisa to really go over the dashboard. But another issue that I’m seeing a lot of has to do with layoffs and when will there be layoffs? Are there going to be layoffs? Just before you address that, I want to remind viewers that we’ve discussed in the past the fact that there will not be an institutional announcement about layoffs across Dartmouth, but that there will probably be, likely be, in fact, there have been announcements in divisions or units or schools, and that’s how layoffs will be communicated to the extent that they happen; in sort of a local way as opposed to in a wide, institutional way. We know that that’s on your mind. I’ve seen those questions come in. We’ve said this in the past, but I truly believe and understand that it needs to be repeated so that people sort of know what to expect to the extent that that’s possible. Joe, please add anything that you’d like to add.
Yeah. What you say, Justin, is absolutely correct. That FYI 21, the budget targets were set and provided to deans and division leaders around the beginning of July, around the beginning of fiscal year 2021. And across the board, individuals were asked to reduce spending and for FYI 21, it was largely, although not exclusively, largely due to the significant projected loss in revenue and increase in cost associated with COVID operations. And so those financial challenges can be directly attributed to COVID. In addition, as President Hanlon has said, in several circumstances over the past two years, even before COVID, we were and are continuing to face a longer term structural budget challenge owing to the need to invest in our infrastructure to address longstanding deferred maintenance in our facilities, in our technology capabilities on campus, and to support the initiatives that the campus has taken on over the past several years, both on the academic side and in nonacademic operations.
And so, we will be continuing to work with division leaders, to look for opportunities for savings. We will be continuing to work with division leaders to chart a path forward for FYI 22 and beyond. And as we do that, what that means is that some division leaders will be in a position where there will be job reductions in their units. There will be layoffs or there will be furloughs. It is not going to be widespread across the institution. It is not institutionally mandated, but it is owing to each divisional leader facing this moment of financial challenge and assessing how best to meet that challenge and asking whether or not there are operations that simply can no longer be continued in a more financially challenged time. I think actually, it may well be worth spending a subsequent community conversation as we get closer to the submission of FY 22 budgets, taking a little bit of time to talk not just about COVID, but about COVID and budgets and the budgetary process for the year.
So, thank you, Justin. With that, why don’t we bring Mike and Lisa back and turn our conversation to residential operations and testing and reporting of our testing? Lisa, good to see you. Mike, welcome back. Lisa Adams, of course, the co-chair of our task force, infectious disease specialist, and member of the Geisel School of Medicine faculty and Mike Wooten, the director of residential education and associate dean for residential life. Lisa, I’m going to start with you before I turn to Mike, since Justin teed up questions about the dashboard before asking me about the budget. You’re a physician and of course co-chair of the task force, as I just mentioned, and you have helped not only oversee development of our testing protocol, but you helped oversee the information that’s presented to the public and to the community on our COVID-19 dashboard. Could you start by just taking a few minutes to help us understand what’s on the dashboard and how to interpret and understand the data? Because I know that you and I have already gotten some questions about what’s presented there and what it represents?
Happy to do so, Joe. There’s a lot to say here but let me try to explain this as succinctly as I can, and then I’m happy to take questions when the time is right. But so, the first thing I want to say is to keep in mind that infectious disease surveillance data can be difficult to interpret because it’s dynamic, with several moving parts as more tests are performed and people move in and out of isolation or quarantine. So, we try to capture the key data as clearly as possible on our dashboard. But again, let me try to walk us quickly through it. If you look at the dashboard, the first table that shows is confirmed cases. So, these are students, both those living on or off campus and faculty or staff who have tested positive through our testing program or in these early days, at least one person who got tested on their own. In this table, we first show active cases, those that are currently diagnosed with COVID, isolating, receiving care, and having a contact investigation performed by the state health department.
The next line is our cumulative cases, which includes both active cases plus recovered cases. So, once someone is no longer ill and they’ve completed their minimum 10-day isolation period, they will drop out of our active case count, but remain in our cumulative case count. So currently, we have three active cases and four cumulative cases, as one person has recovered. Our testing table shows the number of COVID tests performed on campus, the number of those tests that came back positive, and the number of individuals, both students, faculty, and staff who have been tested. And now the latest addition to the dashboard is our testing by week table, which shows data for the total number of tests performed on campus, the number of positive tests, and the percent of total tests that were positive for the current week, as well as previous weeks, going back to July 1.
So, I’m happy to report, as you said, over 8,000 tests have been performed and only two or 0.03 percent of them have been positive. And then if you look at this current week’s data, only 0.05% of our tests have been positive. So, as you look at the rest of the dashboard, the remaining tables show the number of students, faculty, and staff that are isolating or in quarantine, either on or off campus. And I feel like those are pretty self-explanatory as is I think our pre-arrival testing data. That pre-arrival data is a little bit more straightforward because it’s one test per person. And by now, really the testing and home isolation for those five who tested positive is nearly complete at this point. So, I just want to lastly emphasize that we created the dashboard to communicate our data clearly and transparently. That is our goal, and we do welcome feedback on this at our COVID task force email address.
Thanks, Lisa. If I could just ask you one quick follow-up question before I turn to Mike, because you touched on something and I know it’s explained on the website, but I’d like to ask you to walk through it briefly as well. It’s the difference between quarantine and isolation. We show both quarantine and isolation data, and you and I both know there’s often a lot of confusion about terms. We’ve both even seen prominent signs asking travelers to isolate when what they meant was quarantine. Can you remind us of the difference?
Sure. I am very happy to clarify these important infectious disease control terms, which are, as you pointed out, often incorrectly used interchangeable. So, quarantine is used to separate and restrict the movements or community interactions of people who are potentially exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Now, because of the risks associated with travel, those who travel for example, or who have been potentially exposed by participation at a large gathering where physical distancing and face coverings were not practiced, those activities result in someone needing to quarantine.
Isolation is used to separate sick individuals with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. As you may know, in medicine, we love mnemonics. So, I’m going to share my favorite one here. Isolation is reserved for those who are ill. Isolation, ill. That’s a handy way to help remember the distinction. And I will also take just a moment to point out here, too, that you have to keep in mind that our isolation numbers on the dashboard will always include those that have symptoms that are consistent with COVID, but those individuals are still awaiting testing. So, it won’t be unusual, especially as we get into cold and flu season to see our number in isolation actually exceed our number of confirmed cases. Then as people test negative, they will move out of isolation and they’ll be moved out of that isolation count.
Great. Thanks, Lisa. That’s really helpful. And that may be important to come back to as a reminder, as we do enter cold and flu season. Mike, I’d like to turn to you. And before I ask questions about how the first week is going, I know the students are very familiar with you and your role, but our broader faculty and staff community may not be. So, could you just start by telling us a little bit about what your job entails as director of res education and associate dean for residential life?
Absolutely, Joe. It’s good to be here with Lisa and Justin, and we’ve been watching your show, and it’s good to be on it. So, my primary responsibility as an associate dean and the person who oversees residential life is exactly that. All aspects of our house system, our living learning programs, our amazing house professors and faculty that live on campus serving our six houses, live-in advisors who work with our freestanding affinity houses and learning communities, our traditional buildings that have assistant directors and UGAs, those are all a part of my portfolio.
Thanks. Tell me about the first week or the first week and a half. I know moving was a different experience. I know a tremendous amount of planning went into getting ready for it. We have students being required to arrive in a very narrow time window, to move in on their own as much as possible, to say their goodbyes masked outdoors if a family member came with them and to bring with them as little as possible. As I was walking around campus on that first day after leaving the testing tent, I saw you bicycling all around the campus from residence hall to residence hall checking in. So, just tell us a little bit about how it went. Were there any surprises? What did you see? Was it different than a typical year?
You know, Joe, I’ve done 22 years of college move-ins, and like we all have said on calls like this, it was by far the most different move that I’ve ever done. I’ll tell you, probably my biggest surprise was the delight of seeing students and their parents back, especially the ’24s who are so excited to be back. As you described well earlier, the prospect of going to get tested as your first moment on a college campus, then to be ushered in a very timely way to a residence hall where parents were asked to stay outside and not see a bedroom that they had long envisioned their child moving into. Those are really difficult moments for families to not have been a part of, but they were so positive. Parents were so positive. Students were amazing. And a lot of that was they stuck their landing. They got here when they were supposed to get here. We had very specific guidance around the time that they needed to be here. They made that work. They came directly to the residence halls. The parents stayed outside the buildings. And so, I was really impressed with how people followed the many guidelines that we get put in place for this move-in to happen.
And I have to say, it was a community effort. There are people that have probably never worked in move-in at Dartmouth college who are welcoming parents, that are helping traffic move. They were keeping an eye on stuff sticking outside of a door because their daughter or son had to keep coming back up and downstairs to grab it. It was a community effort, just like the testing tent. We had people from across the college helping, and it was an amazing thing to watch.
That’s great. So, let me ask you one quick follow-up question before I turn back to Lisa with some more questions about the dashboard and testing. I don’t often ask one of our guests to comment on comments of a prior guest from another week, but I’m going to do that now. Jon Plodzik was with us two weeks ago, as you may know, to talk about the complexities of feeding students during this initial quarantine period and over the course of the fall term. How’s it working from your perspective and have we had to make any adjustments, or things going according to plan?
There is no doubt that when you go from a single servery, which is what we do at Dartmouth College in ’53 commons, and then you deliver food to what is nearly 2,000 students on our campus almost through their door ... It wasn’t exactly to the door, but to their residence halls, it’s a major task. That was the plan, of course, pre first test, before their first test, they got that test back.
They are now at six locations across campus. And of course there were some wrinkles in the first two days of this process, not as many as you may even expect, but most of those wrinkles have been ironed out. I myself had a chicken and pesto wrap. I take advantage of walking through the line now when I’m on my campus to see how things are going. It was amazing. And I think the food is quite good and we’re going to continue to have more optionality, of course, as we move through the quarantine process, and the type of food offerings that you’d expect as we have more opportunities to sort of condense what is the service of those foods. But for now, the operation of that is not a simple thing, but I think it’s actually going quite well.
That’s great to hear, and I didn’t have much of a lunch today, and so now you’re making me hungry. Thank you for that. So, Lisa, let me turn back to you. One of the things I spoke about just in my remarks at the beginning of our segment today was about the TSA, the temperature assessment, and the self-assessment that we’re asking everyone to do. The questionnaire, everyone who’s on campus needs to fill out the questionnaire I was asking students to fill out as I worked through the line at the testing tent. Just take a few moments to tell us why you see that as being essential as part of our public health management toolkit.
Indeed. The TSA is really critical for disease surveillance. It’s really going to be one of our routine means of detecting cases. So, it’s important for people to fill it out and to take their temperature daily if they’re living on or coming to campus. I know many, especially young, healthy people can have a high tolerance for having a mild fever or other symptoms. So, doing this very conscious sort of health check-in every day is really necessary. I’ll say we sometimes harp on the fact that 40% of people with COVID will never develop symptoms, but that means that 60% do. And so, capturing any concerning symptoms is going to be essential to our plan to keep everyone in our community healthy. So, my plea is, it’s a requirement, but I’m going to ask as well; please do your TSA every time for your own health and for the health of those around you.
Thanks, Lisa. That’s something I think that we can’t emphasize often enough. I know you say it frequently, and I do certainly in each of these conversations and even in individual meetings. Thinking about the importance of the collective health of the collective community is essential. And a lot of these steps that we take that may seem in some ways unnecessary are absolutely essential to our keeping our finger on the status, on the pulse of the state of community health and being prepared to identify any positive cases as soon as they may occur, and move those individuals to isolation for the greater good of the greater health of the community.
Let me ask each of you one final, quick question, and then we’ll turn back to Justin and have him tell us what questions are coming in from outside. Mike, and in your role, I wanted to ask you just a little bit about the house communities. We’ve never had a virtual start to a house community term, and the house communities of course this fall includes students who are physically present and resident on campus and students who are remote but taking classes and still very much part of those house communities. It’s really early days. It’s only the third day of classes, but have you seen any examples of creative programming in the house, communities? Anything notably different this year, other than the fact that only half the students are physically present?
Right. Joe, you’re absolutely right this. While only half of our students are here, our house program is available to all of our students, of course, because of our class schedule. Our program is at its best by students for students. And so really what starts now is our house professors, our assistant directors, our UGAs, our OPLs helped us with this, our orientation peer leaders as they welcomed the first years back to the residence halls, was really to start to co-create this program together. And that’s really the secret sauce, right? That we do this together. That’s the magic of the classroom, and that’s the magic of a residential house program is that we do it together. But that requires folks that now be in this conversation together.
So that’s really where the energy is, but through orientation and the first week, executive councils were meeting with students who are interested in different positions. There were virtual hangouts happening. There were virtual scavenger hunts. There were all sorts of mixers that were embedded into the orientation schedule to help our students find each other. And I don’t want to be too Pollyanna-ish about this. It’s not easy to be inside more than outside during this time of the year, not to mention beautiful New England fall days that we’re having. But especially when you want to meet your peers, you want to see who’s down the floor from where you live. So, this has not been easy, and it’s strained our communities at some level to begin this way. But I think that there’s lots of opportunities for us to meet each other in fresh ways, and the houses are the perfect place to do that right now.
Thank you, Mike. Lisa, let me turn to you. Last question before we turn back to Justin. There was an article in the Valley News just the other day talking about the wastewater testing program that we’re conducting in partnership with D-H. For those who may not be familiar with it, could you just take a few seconds to describe what it is, how it works, and have we gotten any results so far, or is it still a little too early to ask that question?
Yeah, happy to talk about this. Wastewater testing is definitely a part of our surveillance plan. I know it has been mentioned on previous community conversations, but just as a reminder, this is a project that we’re conducting in collaboration with our partners at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. We are testing wastewater effluent twice a week with 24-hour sampling from eight different sewage. Now these eight sites cover dorms or clusters of residence buildings representing between about 80 up to 600 beds per site. Now, again, because roughly half of people with COVID will shed virus in their stool as much as a week before they get any symptoms, and as we said, many people with COVID never develop any symptoms at all, finding the virus in the wastewater can be a really important early warning signal to detect a person with COVID before they’re diagnosed through the usual means of testing. And I’ve said it before, and I said it to the Valley News reporter that time is of the essence when trying to control the spread of an infectious disease. So, the sooner we can see an early trigger and then target our testing efforts, the better. So, we piloted this collection method last week, and the results from both days of testing were negative, indicating no virus was detected. So, it’s all good news on the wastewater front.
That’s great. Well, thanks, Lisa. That’s an encouraging data point. I hadn’t heard that. So, thank you both. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Justin, who will tell us what questions are on the minds of our listeners today. Justin?
Thanks a lot, Joe. And thanks, Lisa and Mike. I have a lot of really good questions here. Lisa, I’m going to start with you. You talked about the difference between isolation and quarantine. A question here about isolation. Are those who are in isolation who have tested positive kept away from those who are in isolation who haven’t tested positive? How does isolation work? What does it look like?
Yeah. Well, great question, and it has been really critical to identify the right setting, the right building, the right configuration for places where we can safely isolate people. Because you’re right; when someone’s isolated, they should really be off by themselves. So, we had to find spaces that had private rooms and private access to private bathrooms. So, that is really the intent is that that person who is isolating is in their own space. Meals are being delivered, so they really are in isolation. Now, once two individuals have both been confirmed as positive for COVID, we don’t believe that there’s any additional risk by having them interact by passing each other in the hallway, et cetera. We don’t think we’re going to need to do this, but it has been suggested that if we needed to, we could put them as roommates together, sharing a bathroom. But one of the things that we did, and I have to say, I’m really proud of how many rooms that we reserved for isolation and quarantine, because it is much more significantly more than most of our peers, with over 550 rooms set aside for isolation and quarantine. I think we are in good stead to be able to give everybody who needs to have their own room and access to their own private bathroom, that space.
Mike, my first question for you, believe it or not is about trash. Has the frequency of trash pickups in the dorms increased with all of the kids eating in their rooms, disposing the food in the dorms? And that’s very specific about trash, but what are some unintended consequences that you’re having to deal with because of how students are living in residence halls right now?
Yeah, it’s a great question. And we have in fact seen some unintended consequences as you’d expect. When you deliver food to a residence hall again, pre first test being delivered, which we’re through that stage. Now we’re in stage two, of course of quarantine, which means that students can now leave their buildings. But remember that until they got their first test back, meals were being delivered to the building, they would take their meal to their room, they would eat it. And then they would bring their trash to an adjacent area where the food is being delivered. And so, the need to move trash out of buildings at a much higher rate was of course there. We did that. But there’s no doubt that there was more trash in buildings than we ever would’ve liked for there to be there. We are through that stage now. And we believe that that problem has been fully addressed.
Lisa, question for you. Again, this is about the dashboard. Can you explain why there are two positive tests in students and three active cases? So basically, why is there a discrepancy between those two numbers?
Yeah, so again, there’s lots of sort of nuanced information here. And as I think I had mentioned, that we’re reporting on cases that were tested positive through our testing system. And that’s predominantly through the arrival testing. If someone tested positive through pre-arrival testing and they were in the Upper Valley area, because that’s where they live, we would also have reported that as a local case. Otherwise, pre-arrival testings, you were out of the area, out of state, elsewhere. We would not have included in our case count.
Additionally, as I mentioned too, in the early days, as testing was sort of ramping up and students were arriving on campus, there was at least one case where someone went and got tested on their own. Because that person’s, if that person’s a Dartmouth student and they are tested in New Hampshire, they get counted in our case count. So, there are a lot of extenuating circumstances where there may be individuals who show up in our case count who at least again, in these early days, were not tested through our arrival testing.
I think that’s all going to sort of settle down now that we think the vast majority of our students are here now in the area, on campus. And it’s really going to be our routine testing that’s going to be the way that people are tested at this point.
Well, we lost Justin for a second. So, while we’re trying to recover Justin, I’m going to take host prerogative and ask you a question. So, Mike, I’m going to turn to you. A question that I didn’t get to ask you was about ... it’s a question we’ve asked often in these settings, but I’ve never asked you. What’s the status of the return of residential belongings to the students? There was some conversation about that in The D today, as you may have seen.
Well, Joe, I’m not taking any questions on this topic today. Just kidding. We’ve talked a lot about belongings. So, first of all, it is a monumental task, as our students know, as our community knows to return the amount of people’s belongings back to them across the country as we did beginning really early summer. We have completed the task of returning the people who had asked for their stuff to either be returned or to left in storage.
And that’s really a hat tip to our amazing colleagues and services and operations who this was really what they did this summer. Including a lot of people, some of my staff, who were customer service for what was a nearly impossible puzzle, which was to get everybody their stuff back.
Where we are now is that this week, people who are living on campus have the ability to make a controlled storage appointment to retrieve the things that were left in our controlled storage units across campus. We’ve had over 300 people that have already done that. At the end of this week, we will be allowing beginning next week, folks who live locally to do the same, to make an appointment. These are often spaces in the basements of buildings. There’s not great ventilation. So, we have to really control and stagger people’s ability to return to the controlled storage to retrieve their things.
But they can do so, and they can start making those appointments to start to retrieve their belongings that are in our storage right now. So, this week it’s been people living on campus. Next week it’s folks that are living locally. And we’ll kind of continue the process of getting people their stuff as we go through the next few weeks.
Right. So it sounds as if then if I’m hearing you correctly, that over the next two to three weeks, the questions that were raised by the students will in fact be addressed, that everyone who’s local will have the opportunity to go to storage and retrieve their belongings. It’s just being done in a very structured way, which is ... And here too I will say, we heard a little bit about this around student arrival in the testing tent before students arrive, we were being asked why it had to be so regimented and structured.
What it enabled us to do there was keep students separated, prevent long lines, and not have any buildup of large numbers of students that would have been potentially a challenge for managing a de-densified process. We would have had too many students in one place if lines built up. And so, the process was designed to avoid that. And you’re clearly doing exactly the same thing with allowing students controlled access to their belongings. And so, hearing that, the message I think you’re conveying the students that I would emphasize is, we understand this is not ideal. Please understand why we’re doing it. It is supportive of community health so that we can all collectively have the highest probability of making it through the fall term successfully. So be patient and your day will be coming in the next few weeks.
So, Lisa, I’d like to ask you another question on testing because it looks as if Justin’s computer is not cooperating. And so, we’re not going to have him back for the last few minutes this afternoon. The dashboard has evolved even in the first two weeks that we’ve had it up online. Is it fixed now or are there additional features or additional information that you anticipate adding?
One of the things that I’ve found really helpful to have present on the dashboard that I’ve not seen on many other dashboards, and I’ve heard about it from a few community members is the graphic that shows our amount of quarantine and isolation capacity that remains available. For me, being in the position I am to help manage and oversee the campus through the fall, it’s hugely reassuring to see how much capacity we retain in the system. But I don’t know if you want to comment on that specifically or about potentially other features you anticipate adding to the dashboard.
Yes. Well, as you know, if you’ve looked at the dashboard lately, you’ll see it’s mostly tables. And then that one pie chart. We are very much considering the dashboards to be a live entity again, as we think about what’s the best way to display the data, what are the critical data that we can share in a meaningful way with our Dartmouth community and the local community. There are a set of variables of data points that my health and epidemiology working group is starting to collect and where we really dive into the details of the data that exists behind the dashboard. But I think as we to be able to enhance the dashboard, the web design architecture, our desire is to actually be able to add interactive graphs and some other features.
So, I consider it very much a living project. And as I had said, we want to know how we can best serve our community. It is our public facing, a piece of sharing information about what we’re seeing with testing and cases and those in isolation and quarantine. So please, I put it out there to folks, do send us comments to the COVID taskforce email. All of them get read, responded to. And we are happy to hear feedback. As I said, I expect it will continue to evolve over the term.
All right. Thank you, Lisa. So, we have just a few minutes remaining. And so, Mike, I’ll turn to you and I’ll give you the last question before I close.
As we work through the quarantine period and begin to open up the campus more fully to undergraduate students starting Friday, Sept. 25, or effectively Saturday, Sept. 26, what’s going to change in the programming and residential life is providing? Are there any hints of things to come that you can share with the community?
Yeah. I mean, there’s already some of that happening, even during the quarantine. Which if students can go to engage, which is a platform that we use where they can see what their available programs, whether a controlled walk with a member of the outdoor programs group, whether it’s yoga on the green. There’ll be increased opportunities for our students to find each other. And to again, help us create the program that our students would desire for this fall term.
We also know that the weather will start to change. We live in New England. And students will see a variety of tents erected around campus that we’ll be using in creative ways to both allow informal times of students together and also programmed reservable space for our students to be able to do the things that they want to do on a campus like ours. So yes, there’ll be absolutely some slight pivots and even some major pivots as we leave quarantine for the program on campus.
That’s great. Thank you. Well, thank you both for your answers. Thank you for persisting in the face of some technical glitches that we had this afternoon. So, we didn’t quite get to all the community questions that we hoped to, but you certainly got a sampling of what’s on people’s minds. And the answers you provided I think are extraordinarily helpful.
And thanks to both of you truly, and the teams that you work with for all that you and they have done to help us get to this moment of what has been so far, a smooth reopening of the campus for undergraduate students, and a smooth return of graduate and professional students by and large to the campus community. I am so extraordinarily pleased to see the number of positive tests that we have detected. I was optimistic that the Dartmouth community would come through and that we would see positive test rates that were consistent with the best of what other campuses are seeing. And we have seen that to date. And so, thanks to both of you, as I say, and all your colleagues for all of your work in helping get us to this point.
So, let me simply close by saying to the community in different words what I said earlier. As we look ahead to the remainder of fall term, there’s no hiding this. This is not going to be easy for us and for any college or university in this country. This is asking a lot of our community. It’s asking personal sacrifice for the greater good in ways that colleges and universities, in ways that Dartmouth have not had to do in decades. But that’s the Dartmouth. And this is the Dartmouth that I’ve seen in my 15 years here.
I think back to the conversations I had with students in the testing line, under the testing tent, members of the Class of 2024, who had just arrived a week ago, and their first experience was walking into this tent to get tested and swabbed, as I said. And their excitement about being here and their emphasis on being part of this community leaves me highly optimistic that we are in a position where we can navigate this as a successful fall term and engage all of our students, residential and remote alike, in a meaningful, enriched educational experience.
And so, with that, let me say thank you to all of you for joining us today. Thank you to all of the employees, staff, and faculty who have worked so hard to make this reopening possible. We look forward to joining you again for the next community conversation in two weeks on Sept. 30. Until then, be safe, everyone. And we’ll see you soon.