Community Conversations, May 20, 2020 Transcript

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May 20, 2020 Transcript

Joseph Helble:

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to our fourth weekly community conversation at Dartmouth College, addressing planning response operations in the time of COVID-19. These conversations are a series of weekly live broadcasts, scheduled currently through the end of June and anticipated to continue on some schedule through the summer, to provide an update and answer your questions live concerning operational and budgetary decisions that we're making in the face of COVID-19.

I'm Joe Helble. I'm the provost at Dartmouth College, and I'm joining you again today from the STAR Instructional Studios in Berry Library, on a day where outside I can safely say spring has finally arrived and truly arrived in the Upper Valley. I'll be joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications, who will be joining us from an adjacent studio, and by three members of the Dartmouth College faculty, Dean Madden, professor at the Geisel School of Medicine and our vice provost for research; David Leib, professor and chair of the Microbiology and Immunology Department at the Geisel School of Medicine; and Margie Ackerman, professor of Engineering at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering.

As I do each week, I'll provide a brief update. We'll take your questions live, moderated by Justin, and then we'll have a conversation with campus leaders, today, the three members of our faculty who will be speaking with us largely about our plans to slowly reopen the campus for on-campus research activity starting next week, and also some of the research activity that's been conducted in some of our laboratories here on campus quietly during the initial phase of the shutdown.

This afternoon, there's four things that I'd like to touch on that have occupied much of the work of the task force and of the senior leadership over the course of the past week. First, I'll speak briefly to the status of our belongings return activity, the policy and plan that we announced last week and was announced by email last week as well. Second, I'd like to turn my attention to some of the considerations around summer term, specifically around grading and grading policy, the discussions that have been brought to a close by our faculty of arts and sciences earlier this week. I'll then spend some time summarizing the details that were provided in the research announcement from Vice Provost Madden to the campus this morning, and finally end with a few words about some of the surprising activities that have been happening around us during spring term, and also speak briefly about our planning for the fall term ahead.

So, first, in terms of the belongings return policy, as you know, last week, Dean Kathryn Lively, the dean of the College, and the co-chairs of the task force, Josh Keniston and Dr. Lisa Adams, announced to the campus our policy for the return of undergraduate student belongings. That plan, announced in the middle of last week, called for immediate follow-up with seniors to be contacted by our dean of the College team and asked to let us know of their preferences for returning their belongings. As we had said last week, we were going to focus on seniors first, and as soon as we had collected the necessary information from graduating students and put that plan into action, we would turn our attention to the remaining undergraduate students from the first three classes whose belongings were also left behind in the residence halls when we shifted to remote operation at the start of the spring term.

A quick update, the form was made available to our graduating students last week as planned and as promised, and to date, as of late yesterday afternoon, 98% of those who reside in College-owned housing, this is 98% of the graduating students, had provided us with the necessary information. Our dean of the College team is following up with a few who have not yet responded, and we anticipate bringing that part of the process to closure either today or tomorrow.

In parallel, our undergraduate students who are juniors, sophomores, and first year students have also been informed that as of today, the form is open for their completion, for them to let us know of their preferences for belongings return, and they have until June 1, and it is not on a first come, first serve basis, and so there is no immediacy or need to get it done today, but I would encourage those of you who are watching to do it quickly, and make sure you get your preferences back to us by June 1, and we will continue to move forward with our plan. So let me simply say thank you to the task force and to the dean of the College team for following through and following up with our students and following through on the plan, keeping things moving forward, and we look forward to beginning to ship belongings back to our students in the coming weeks.

Let me turn now to summer term, and a question that's been on the minds of many, and that is around the summer term grading policy. As I've mentioned in the past, and as many of you know, when Dean of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith and I announced just prior to the start of spring term that spring term would be graded for all courses at the undergraduate level on a credit, no credit basis, we announced that summer term would mark a return to graded evaluation of student work, if summer term were to be a remote learning term. We have since announced, of course, that summer term will be a remote learning term, and we have confirmed our commitment at several points to a graded experience, but had said that the faculty in several faculty committees were exploring different options for grading and evaluation of student work, the question specifically being whether or not an expanded NRO, non-recording option, would be available to students for summer term as a transition from the credit, no credit grading.

Different faculty committees have looked at different options. The Committee on Instruction, the Committee on Organization and Policy have weighed in, and on Monday, there was a discussion and vote of the arts and sciences department and program chairs, and they voted in favor of offering an expanded NRO for summer term 2020 only. So, this is an expanded NRO option that allows students to receive an NR in three ... In for NRO and what cannot be an NRO-eligible course. These details obviously matter, and these details will be available to students on specific courses before the end of add-drop period. The policy itself will be posted on the website of the Dartmouth College registrar by later this evening, and the registrar will then be following up with emails to all members of the undergraduate faculty and to all undergraduate students tomorrow. So, I would simply say please read the details carefully, and think about your courses and think about your plans for summer term and respond thoughtfully before the end of add-drop period.

Now, with regard to summer term, let me also turn to a question that I've been getting with increasing frequency over the course of the past week, and that ... Challenges associated with family members being at home, often young children, but in some cases, parents and young children, several generations present in the home, sometimes under the care of the faculty member or staff member who is working to deliver course content and provide an engaging educational experience for our students. And what they've said to me very specifically is that the temporary closure of the Dartmouth Child Care Center has increased the challenge for many of them. As we turn to summer term, there are questions about the fate of the Dartmouth Child Care Center, and specifically whether in when it will reopen, and whether it will be a resource accessible to families who are part of the child care center community as summer term begins.

Let me simply say, we know this has been a challenge for many, and we know that we need to address this. Over the course of the past week, the leadership of the Dartmouth Child Care Center and staff leadership and human resources have been working to develop a reopening plan. Our intention is to reopen the child care center in late spring or early summer. If we can, it needs to be done in a way that is consistent with State of New Hampshire rules and State of New Hampshire guidance. It is quite likely that it will not be able to reopen at 100% capacity, for the same number of children, but I will say upfront, what percentage of families or children will it be able to accommodate? We do not yet know. When specifically, will it open? We do not yet know, but we will inform the community as soon as we can.

Here, as with so many other things, I'm sharing this because I want all of you to know that we are working on this, that human resources and the leadership of the child care center are working on this. We know what an important asset it is to so many of you. It is on our near-term list of questions to answer, but again, federal rules, sorry, state rules. Well, federal rules, certainly, but in this case, state rules and state guidance are important in determining when and how we can open, and I will provide an update on that, or human resources and the leadership of the child care center itself will provide an update as soon as they can.

Let me turn now to the question of conferral of degrees. In early April, President Hanlon announced that we would not unfortunately be able to hold an in-person commencement ceremony this June for members of the graduating class of 2020, undergraduate and graduate alike. He did announce that we will have an in-person ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of all of these graduates in June of 2021, and details of that, including the specific dates in June 2021, are still being considered and evaluated.

President Hanlon also announced that we will have a conferral in a virtual celebration of the awarding of degrees, a virtual conferral of degrees, that will take place on June 14, the day of the originally scheduled commencement this year. Those details will be announced before the end of this week, before Memorial Day weekend. And so, for those of you who are anticipating receiving a degree, in the next few days, please pay attention to announcements from Dartmouth College, and I think many of your questions will be answered shortly.

Let me now turn to the main subject of our discussion today, and that is the reopening of some of our on-campus research activity in what we are calling phase one of the research reopening plan. A few weeks ago, we had announced that it was our goal to announce the plan for phased reopening by late May, and that plan was in fact announced by Vice Provost for Research Dean Madden earlier this morning. Now, some have asked me, why are we starting with laboratory research? It's a question I've gotten from members of the faculty and staff. It's a question that the student writers for The D, The Dartmouth, have asked me. It's a question that's come from several different quarters.

With laboratory research, it's not just people who are important in advancing the intellectual activity, but it's also what I refer to as space and place. It's the need for access to specialized equipment, specialized reagents, or facilities that you simply cannot mimic at home. Students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty can't simply run an assay sample in Iscore, sort cells through flow cytometry, or look at nanostructures of some interesting material using electro microscopy from home. They need access to on-campus specialized facilities, laboratories, and equipment for that work to continue.

A related question I've been asked is, why are we opening research now, if courses are going to be taught remotely through this summer? What we can do with the on-campus research environment and research activity is begin a phased reopening in a very controlled and limited access fashion, with one person per laboratory, as the policy this morning announced. It can be done in a way that minimizes or completely eliminates in-person interactions, and that's something we simply cannot do with undergraduate or graduate level classroom teaching, or laboratory instruction.

Through our management of the research reopening, and by doing it gradually with laboratories first, limited access, we anticipate that we will learn a fair amount that will enable us to move on in fairly rapid succession to the reopening in a limited way of library research access, and some other on-campus research facilities. We have planned for this as much as we can, but by starting slowly and starting small, with a very limited on-campus operation, we can examine, evaluate, learn as we move forward, and that will help us move to a phase two of research reopening later this summer. All of this will help us plan for the return of our most complex operation, and that is in-person teaching, in-person learning, and in-person residential living, which we anticipate doing, which we hope to do with the maximum number of students possible that we can safely accommodate by this fall.

Briefly, what are the details of the plan that Vice Provost Madden announced this morning? We'll begin this phased reopening on May 26. That's next Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day. We are asking, quite emphatically, all of those who have been conducting their research at home and whose work can continue to be done at home, to continue to work remotely. Access will be provided only to principal investigators, to faculty and staff, graduate students and postdocs at this time. There will not be undergraduate participation in this initial phase one of the work.

We are asking everyone, in fact, we are requiring everyone who will be coming from out of state, out of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire, to self-quarantine for 14 days. That restriction remains in effect for individuals who are coming from out of state, before returning to campus and before returning to the libraries. We are asking everyone who will be participating in on-campus research activity during phase one to self-monitor into check-in daily, via the dartgo.org/TSA check-in portal. We are opening our facilities only from eight to six, Monday to Friday, so that we can do it in a controlled fashion, and as I said earlier, only to one person per research group at any given time.

PIs in their laboratories must develop a protocol, complete environmental health and safety training, watch a video, prepare a calendar for laboratory access for the group, and submit all of that to EH&S before on-campus operation resumes. And what we have done with the task force, and Vice Provost Madden have done in his working group in crafting this policy, is to try and strike a balance between working group in crafting this policy is to try and strike a balance between offering the flexibility to each principal investigator to determine what must start first, and who from their groups should be first back to the laboratory, while providing some procedures and rules that are consistent across campus, all submitted through EH&S to help us manage health and safety. We can do this, because we have a responsible community of manageable size. We can do this, because we live in an environment that locally has seen a reduced transmission rate. We have a locally resident population of graduate students and postdocs, and these help us take this step to begin reopening research laboratories a week to several weeks ahead of many of our peers. Success and moving on to phase two depends upon the cooperation and the compliance of everyone who's participating in the phase one research reopening.

And so, I ask, the task force asks, all of us ask for your cooperation and adherence to the restrictions and guidelines so that we can do this safely and successfully. Phase two, which will expand research, access, and utilization will be tied to data and not a specific date. We are not announcing a date by which we will move to phase two, because it depends upon the successful implementation and execution of the phase one plan.

Now finally, let me close with just a few words on fall term and also one of the interesting and surprising things that's come to my attention recently around spring term. I know that fall term is on everyone's minds. It's certainly on the minds of the task force, and it is absolutely on mine. There are many, many decisions we need to make, and President Hanlon and I remain committed to announcing our campus decision regarding fall term operations by the June 29 date that we have announced previously. In the near term, before we move to announcing or to making and announcing decisions around full term operations, there are several related decisions that need to be made and announced. For example, what is the status of pre-orientation trips, which is tied in many ways to our summer calendar, what is the status of our fall off-campus programs that require advanced planning and planning for international travel?

On both of these, we anticipate making decisions by early next week and announcing those before the end of the month. And let me simply say in closing in my comments on fall term, that I ask us all to bear in mind that as we plan for a return to on-campus operations this fall, it is highly unlikely that it will be business as usual, everyone operating exactly the same way, everyone interacting exactly the same way, in the same large group sizes, and the same freedom to move about and congregate in large groups, as we did in every fall past. Things will be different. There will be guidelines and rules put in place to help ensure community health and safety. And I ask for all of your patience as the task force, and so many of us work through to make decisions regarding reopening and to put in place guidelines that will enable us to do so. I will have, and we will have much more to say about this over the course of the next five weeks.

Let me just end briefly with a story of something that I would characterize as seeing a department, a group of faculty and staff and some students pushing beyond the existing boundaries in a way that I found remarkable and, in many ways, inspiring. So just a brief moment for me to speak about teaching and some of what I've seen happening this term. In earlier community conversations, we've shared stories with some faculty members who were teaching in the term, but one of the things I acknowledge and so many of us have acknowledged at that time and since then, is that while this is a challenge for all courses, for those that require live interactions or access to equipment, lab courses, studio courses, design courses, performance classes. These are perhaps the most challenging. But I've learned through many years at Dartmouth that I should never underestimate the creativity and commitment of our faculty and staff and the willingness of our students to embrace challenge.

Over the course of spring term, I've been asking our faculty to let me know what's surprised them this term. And over the weekend, I had an exchange with Dan Kotlowitz, who's the chair of the theater department. And I'd like to just end by reading briefly from one of our email exchanges this weekend. What Dan said was, I quote, "The process of moving the term online forced all of us to rethink and reconceive the possibilities and power of theater. We've all been surprised, not just by what we can accomplish in this environment, but how much our students crave a creative medium for their voices to be heard. Our staff members have been working to master the stagecraft necessary to create online theater, experimenting. Much of what we take for granted has become enormously complicated. The simple act of one character knowing which direction to look when talking to another character, the handling of a prop that must appear at the same item for four different characters, or simply making all the characters in a production seem as if they are in the same room, lit by the same light. These are all complex and convoluted problems.

Our courses have confronted equal challenges, particularly in the performance-based curriculum. And yet we've seen students singing in their garage, Richard III making coffee, costume designs, and stop-motion film of a crumble ball of paper in a story about space, time, and energy, the list goes on." Some of which he and the students shared with me by video over the weekend. "Everyone could have said we can't, everyone could have said converting this kind performance-based instruction, performance-based display to a two-dimensional video interaction was impossible. Instead, the faculty and staff responded by focusing on the technical aspects that they might not ordinarily teach. And they developed prompts to unleash the creative energy of our students by guiding them. And then by stepping out of the way."

So, let me end by saying thanks to everyone in that department, students, faculty, and staff alike, and thanks to all of you for supporting our incredible students, graduate and undergraduate, and helping them, challenging them, and encouraging them in these extraordinary times. Happy to take your questions now on any of the developments of this past week or anything that might be on your minds. Justin?

Justin Anderson:

Thank you, Joe. And nice to see you once again. We've received a lot of questions pertaining to the announcement of the day about the ramping up of research. And I think we can save a lot of those for later in the webcast, but I do want to start with one just because that was the topic of the day. And that the question that I've chosen is, are there any oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that faculty and students are adhering to the research ramp up guidelines?

Helble:

Right. So, every, and Dean Madden can certainly comment on this in more detail afterwards, but as I mentioned briefly, the policy requires every PI to submit a plan to Environmental Health and Safety. If there are questions about adherence to, or implementation of the plan, those can be directed to Environmental Health and Safety or to the deans of the relevant schools. And we've structured it in this way, because we think the deans and the schools themselves are in the best position to understand what is necessary and appropriate for access to facilities, utilization of the facilities, who should be there, and who may not need to be there, and to make decisions and judgments and provide oversight in coordination with Environmental Health and Safety. And ultimately of course, Dean Madden as the vice provost for research is in a position to field questions and address those kinds of concerns as well.

Anderson:

Joe, I think it's fair to say that the talk about ramping up research, it's causing I think excitement among faculty and students and staff who really want to get back to campus, but I'm seeing in questions that it's also causing some anxiety. And there's a question here, will staff be required to return to work when campus reopens, if they feel uncomfortable?

Helble:

I think for anyone who feels uncomfortable or may be in a position, because of age or because of underlying condition, or a variety of other reasons, I would strongly encourage those individuals to be in touch with their supervisor or with the dean of the relevant school, if appropriate. I mean, particularly in phase one, we want this to work for everyone. And the best answer I can give is we're going to do this carefully, thoughtfully, and with understanding of individuals' preferences and circumstances as we move forward. And as I said at the outset, we are continuing to say at this point in time that any research work that can be done remotely should continue to be done remotely. So, this is meant to be a phased, underlining that, phased, slow, controlled, structured returned on campus operation. And by limiting access to the laboratory to one person at a time, we are going in many ways to the extreme, to ensure distancing of people from one another and to ensure everyone's health and safety.

Helble:

So, I would simply say, as I said at the outset, I'd encourage that individual to speak with their principal investigator or their supervisor, or if needed the dean of the relevant school to address their specific concerns.

Anderson:

Joe, in addition to anxiety about coming back to work and wondering whether or not it will be a safe environment, there's also understandably a lot of anxiety about job security. And I know that you have said multiple times that there will be no job reductions through June 30.

Helble:

That's correct.

Anderson:

There are, I'm seeing a lot of questions here that basically say, well, then what? And will we know what our fate will be, our job status will be after June 30?

Helble:

Right. So, thank you, Justin. I understand that question is on the minds of many. And as I said, when the president made the commitment in early March, and the senior leadership made the commitment in early March to retain full employment through the end of June, we did that because we knew that these were extraordinary times and this was a question that would be of significant interest and concern to many members of the Dartmouth community. Our decisions about what happens starting in the new fiscal year are tied in many ways to decisions that are made about fall term operations, to whether or how many students we will have back on campus in the fall term, to how we will meet, or steps we will take to meet the extraordinary budgetary challenge that's facing Dartmouth and every other institution of higher education in this country for FY 21 and beyond.

Helble:

And so, we are in the process of working through various financial scenarios with several committees, faculty committees, joint faculty staff committees, and with senior leadership to try and chart a path forward for FYI 21 and beyond. And so right now I can't provide a definitive answer other than to say we remain firm in our commitment to keep everyone fully employed through June 30. And we're working as diligently as we can to chart a path forward for the next fiscal year, recognizing that there is a lot that's uncertain and beyond our control. And part of it is tied to what our operations are going to look like in fall of this calendar year and beyond.

Anderson:

Joe, you mentioned that we are facing budgetary challenges that are similar to what colleges and universities are facing across the country. And a great question came in referencing the announcements that were made this week from Notre Dame and Boston College, that will be welcoming students back in the fall. And the question is more specifically, have you, Joe, Dartmouth learned anything that you can apply to your process from these decisions? Do you think it accelerates any of your plans to announce what will happen in the fall?

Helble:

So, let me answer the second question first, and that is no, it doesn't accelerate our plans to announce what will happen in the fall. I'm certainly aware of, we're certainly aware of and paying attention to decisions that Notre Dame and Boston College and Purdue have made to indicate that they will welcome back the full undergraduate student cohort in the fall, assuming circumstances don't change. We've also seen the California State University system announced that they will be fully remote learning, fully virtual in the fall. As I've said in other contexts, and it remains true here, we are informed by what other institutions are doing, but we are not going to be driven by decisions that other institutions make. I think each institution needs to make decisions that are in the best interest of its community, the health and safety of its community, need to be cognizant of how much of a residential community it has and its commitment to residential education, it needs to think about its interactions with faculty, staff, and the broader community.

Helble:

And so, are we learning from decisions that others are making? Yes, but we are going to continue to be careful, thoughtful, and deliberate in our decision making. And so, I don't anticipate other institutions' announcements driving us to move up our deadline. We intend to take the next five to six weeks fully to think about the different options and the different approaches to this and to make the decision that we collectively feel is in the best interest of the Dartmouth community.

Anderson:

Well, and this next question I think demonstrates the limits of what we can learn from our peers, because it identifies an issue that is very much unique to Dartmouth and it has to do with sophomore summer. This person writes in the current sophomore class, when the summer is over, will have had two consecutive terms of virtual learning. So, in the fall, looking forward to the fall, if the sophomore class returns to the fall term remotely, that will be three terms that they will have had remote instruction. So, the question is basically, is that being considered as we are considering who will be back on campus in the fall physically, if in fact people will be back on campus in the fall physically.

Helble:

So, the short answer there is yes, that's being considered. There are many important considerations for many different groups of our students in each of the classes has important reasons to be here on campus in the fall or through the next academic year. As I said briefly last week, one of the things we are working through, specifically the academic leadership is working through, is a question of whether we should try and address this as a fall term question only. Or should think about an integrated solution that plans for the entire academic year and therefore upfront can give certainty to students as to when they will have the opportunity to be back on campus in residence next year. And would ask different groups of students to share in the need for some remote learning terms next year, as well.

We can't answer those questions until we have a better indication of the maximum number of students that we can safely accommodate on campus. Once we know the number, we can begin addressing questions of the structure and begin to think about who. I know that question is on the minds of every undergraduate student in there as well. I just have to ask for everyone's patience as we work through this and try and find the best path forward for Dartmouth that enables us to safely return the maximum number of students to campus this fall.

Anderson:

Joe, there's a number of questions that I would characterize as students. I imagine its students who are asking these questions, students' sort of requesting some level of flexibility around various sort of deadlines or deep plan restrictions. For instance, one questioner asks, "Will there be an option to defer after June 1?" Another questioner asks, "If fall term is virtual for some, or all students, will students have the option of modifying their D-plan to take the fall off?"

So I am seeing a lot of questions that are basically looking for, well, once we know what certain decisions are going to be, can we then adapt based on what we learn because what we learn may change how we want to move forward with our D-plan.

Helble:

And so, yes, I appreciate those questions. And some of them come from entering first year students' members of the class of 2024. Others of course come from students who are 21s, 22s and 23s and thinking about their specific plans for fall term and beyond. And there I can say in terms of the June 1 deadline, the gap year deadline, we are asking students in the class of 2024 to be patient, as we work through plans associated with fall term of 2024. And the admissions office and the registrar are hearing from students who are asking that question. We ask you to continue to make your preferences known, but we will answer those as we come closer to a fall term, residential and operational decision.

In terms of individual student D-plans, there's not a blanket answer I can give other than it depends as the best answer. And so, I would encourage students to work with their advisor or their undergraduate dean to address questions that are pertinent to their specific circumstances. We want it to be as flexible as we can. We also ask students to recognize that we are committed to their educational continuity and we want to do the best we possibly can in enabling students to continue in a timely fashion, making progress towards their degrees. And for some, perhaps for many here as at other institutions that may well involve a component of remote learning once more in the upcoming academic year.

Anderson:

Okay, Joe, we have time for one more question and I'm going to make it about research so that if you're uncertain of the answer, you can just bring Dean Madden in right away and allow him to answer. But this last student is asking, presumably a grad student is saying, "For graduate students who live in neighboring states, in Vermont or Massachusetts, who will be returning to campus to undertake research, will they be asked to quarantine for 14 days? What is the procedure that will govern their return to campus?

Helble:

Vermont, no. Massachusetts, I believe the answer is yes, but why don't we turn to Dean Madden and get the authoritative response. So, thank you, Justin. Dean, Margie, David. Welcome.

So, as they are coming up on screen, let me just take a moment to, again, introduce my colleagues, Dean Madden, who's our vice provost for research and a professor of biochemistry and cell biology and directs the NIH funded Dartmouth Cystic Fibrosis Center.

Margie Ackerman, a professor of engineering who works in the area of immuno-engineering, engineering antibodies for infectious disease therapies.

And David Leib, who is professor and chair of the microbiology and immunology department at the Geisel School of Medicine, virologist working primarily on the biology and immunology of herpes viruses. But also working now on the detection of the COVID-19 virus. So, welcome everyone. Good to see the three of you, each of you joining us from your homes this afternoon. Dean, I'm going to turn to you with the first question and ask you to answer the question that Justin just posed to me about Massachusetts and Vermont based students.

Dean Madden:

Thanks, Joe. And, and thanks for the opportunity to talk to the community today about all of these topics. The short answer is that we're really trying to apply the principle that if graduate students or postdoctoral fellows have been in their usual residence in the Upper Valley, then they don't need to quarantine because they've been in the same area. And then if they're coming from somewhere else, coming back from a different environment that we would like them to self-quarantine.

Helble:

So just to clarify, or perhaps to put a fine point on it. So even if they're coming from elsewhere in Vermont, say if they're coming from the Burlington area, we would ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return to the Upper Valley. Did I understand that correctly?

Madden:

Yeah, that would be the preference. I mean, even locally, there are very different levels of COVID. There's a very different situation in the southern part of New Hampshire. They're very different situations in parts of Vermont as well. So, I think that I would ask people to exercise an abundance of caution and to quarantine if they are coming from a different epidemiological area, if you will.

Helble:

OK. Thank you. So, let me ask you just a couple of quick operational questions, because I'm sure these are on the minds of many of our students, faculty, and staff, and many of our viewers as well. And then I want to turn to David and Margie and speak about some of the work they've been doing. So, Dean, when can PIs start to file plans with environmental health and safety and any advice on what steps they should undertake first?

Madden:

Right. Yeah, so the answer is as of this morning. And I know EHS is already fielding questions and has been receiving input. I actually met with my own lab group early this afternoon. And we started to discuss this. The first step is we need each lab member to view the EHS training video that is included, referenced in the guidelines that we circulated. We then need the lab teams to come together as a group and collectively develop an operational scheduling and disinfection protocol. And then we need them to collectively submit that, the PI will submit it with copy to all the lab members, to EHS. And then that will set them up for the operations starting next Tuesday.

Helble:

Okay, great. Thank you. And let me just ask you one last question and then turn to Margie and David. So, let's presume success. Let's presume phase one goes extraordinarily well and everything unfolds as planned. I'm not going to ask you the date question because I said we would be data-driven not date driven, but what would phase two looks like? What sorts of things might begin to happen in phase two? What restrictions do you anticipate loosening next?

Madden:

Yeah, so actually I should emphasize that during phase one, there will be some operational changes. We anticipate, for example, that as we get experience with building disinfection protocols, that we may be able to expand the opening hours, which we originally set as 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. That wouldn't really constitute a full phase two. I think in phase two, I should say that the simple procedure I described applies for PIs who have a closed lab in which they can introduce one research member at a time.

For groups that are operating in open labs and interacting with other PIs or for core facilities, for example, we're requiring a more elaborate planning process right now. That's still a handful of operations and we're learning a lot as we plan that. That information is going to inform phase two, which is the idea that we will start to allow PIs to very thoughtfully and under very strict physical distancing constraints, introduce more than one person into their laboratory at a time.

Helble:

Great, thank you.

Madden:

I did want to, if I can, sort of pivot that as we think about phase two for the research, I really also want to emphasize that all of this is, is really allowing us to exercise the muscles. I refer to the building disinfection protocols, these are completely new, we've never done them on campus. We will need them in the fall if we are doing residential education. We are learning at this time in this very limited and safe environment, how to refine those so that they're really effective. So, I see this actually sort of phase two is actually the first step on our way towards not only increasing our research activity, but also getting us on the path towards residential education.

Helble:

Great, thanks for emphasizing that Dean. That's a really important point. So, Margie and David, I'd like to turn to you now and Margie, I'm going to start with you. Both of you, of course we'll have laboratory activity happening under your supervision during phase one because in fact both of you have been among the very small handful of researchers who have continued some work during the laboratory shutdown. You were granted an exception because of your work that you're doing related to COVID-19.

Helble:

So, Margie, I want to start with you. I characterized your lab as an immuno-engineering lab, and I know well, that's how you describe yourself. Could you just tell our community what you mean by immuno-engineering and what you're doing that's very specific and related to COVID-19?

Margie Ackerman:

Sure. It means that we're taking the practical and quantitative approaches near and dear to the hearts of engineers and applying them to the immune system, which is really one of biology's last and great frontiers. We're working to take state-of-the-art knowledge of the immune system and use that understanding to design and engineer new interventions.

In the context of our ongoing work on the COVID epidemic, there are so many unanswered questions about antibodies and protection from infection that antibodies might mediate. Right now, we're studying the blood and mucosal antibody responses in local recovered patients in a collaboration that includes groups from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the cancer center, and Geisel, as well as the local biotechnology company, Adimab.

We're trying to learn about the types of antibodies that infection induces, where they are in the body, and what they can do. We're also really excited to be accessing samples from a hospital in an infection hotspot from a bank of recovered patients who want to donate their blood antibodies to help treat others. We hope to identify the blood donors that have really great antibodies.

Helble:

All right, and Margie I know you've had at least one student, perhaps several students and post-docs engaged throughout this time. Who's been working with you in this lab, in your lab, on these projects during this period?

Ackerman:

Yeah. So, there are three enterprising PhD students, including one, who's a fellow of the newly expanded PhD and Innovation program that are working in the lab right now. Back in March, they were staked out in front of my office, waiting for me to tell me the plan of how we could adapt our approaches to contribute to understanding immunity to coronaviruses and pursue vaccine and antibody interventions. So, I'm proud of their initiative when the world was getting disrupted, they were thinking about what they could do to contribute and to combat that disruption.

Helble:

Great. Thank you, Margie. So, David let me turn to you now. Margie's, course, working on basic science and engineering that ultimately, we hope will lead to understanding of and the development of treatments. You're working more on the diagnostic side, is that correct?

David Leib:

Yes, that's right, Joe. We were approached by a company to try to validate a new diagnostic test that they had developed. The problem with it was that it wasn't validated. It had not been validated in the United States and it had never been used actually on live patient samples. It had only been used to detect genomes which had been extracted and purified. So, it had not been used in any kind of a hospital setting until we got our hands on it.

Helble:

So, could you, for the benefit of our viewers, could you just step back a bit and tell us, so what kind of approach is it a high level? Is this a virus or an antibody approach? And what are some of the limitations that this test that's under development is trying to address and that your lab is trying to help them address?

Leib:

So, the test is designed to detect virus through a nasopharyngeal swab, a nasal swab. This is a very deep and somewhat uncomfortable procedure that I think many people have had. The problem early during the pandemic is I think many people are aware, was that testing was not readily available. And when we were approached by the company that had a ready supply of these things, we felt sort of a moral imperative to get involved, to try and increase the supply, not just for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, but in the world beyond.

So, this test provides many advantages, which the original CDC test did not. Mostly it's very quick, it's very sensitive, has a very low false positive and false negative rate. And it's really quite uniquely simple so that it can be used in low resource settings throughout the world. So underdeveloped or developing countries would be able to get a hold of this test and use it readily.

Helble:

And I know just from reading the popular press, that some of the things that you just touched on there certainly simplicity, also speed, and then false negatives, false positives are huge issues. Could you tell me a little bit more about that before I turn back to Margie and Dean, what do you mean by quick? How fast is quick? And how simple is simple?

Leib:

Yeah, so the test that we've been working on has a turnaround time of about 40 minutes. It's a low-to-moderate throughput test. So, it's not amenable to robotics, which is actually in some settings an advantage, because in a lot of countries and a lot of parts of the world, there are no robots available, it has to be done by a human being. So, this makes the test inherently somewhat simpler, because it can be done by a single trained human being, rather than having to employ robotics.

Helble:

Great. Thank you. So, Margie, let me turn back to you with a follow-up research question. And one of the things you mentioned in your description of what your students has been doing is screening antibodies and to try and get a sense of which ones may, if I can simplify, which ones are effective in doing the work. So, can you just tell us a little bit, in scientific but lay terms, how you're doing that, how you're screening and what you're finding so far at a high level?

Ackerman:

Sure. We're using high dimensional, experimental techniques that really attempt to measure as many characteristics of the antibody response as possible. And then we're using artificial intelligence or machine learning tools to weed through that rich data and identify the features of those antibodies that are associated with effective immunity. This is a little bit like what Netflix does when it makes a suggestion about a program you'd like to watch, or Amazon suggests a purchase for you. And understanding what the characteristics of the most effective antibodies are will then give us a target profile for evaluating vaccine candidates.

So far, we've learned that there's tremendous diversity in the responses in infected subjects who have recovered. Some whose blood is loaded with SARS-2 reacted in neutralizing antibodies, and others with very low levels. The antibodies are targeting different parts of different proteins that comprise the virus. And we've learned that there might be some connections among the antibodies that we all have to circulating coronaviruses that are somewhat related but cause the common cold. And that the antibodies in people's noses can be quite different from those that are circulating in their blood.

Helble:

Wow. So, I'm going to ask one last question. I'm going to ask of you and David both, and Dean to respond, not to put you on the spot, but let me simply say what I'm reading, and what others are telling me. And it's particularly relevant. As I think about challenges returning to full residential campus operation, is that best case everything works well and optimally. Best candidates for vaccines. We are a year away from having something that is safe, efficacious, and broadly deployed. Does that sound right to the two of you?

Leib:

Yes, I'm afraid so.

Ackerman:

You can't make it rosier than that.

Helble:

You could make it rosier than that, or you cannot? OK. I was afraid that's what you were both going to say.

Leib:

Yeah. I mean, I think that the one thing that is changing is the availability of testing. I don't think we can take an enormous amount of credit for that, where we're a small piece of that puzzle. But that certainly has improved, that may help surveying of our community.

Joe:

Great. Thank you. So, thank you both. So, Dean, let me ask you one final question, and then I'm going to turn it back to Justin for questions that may be coming in from our viewers. We've been speaking about the core science work that Margie and David and their labs have been conducting, and others have been conducting on campus over the past few months. But that's not the only work that's getting quietly underway related to COVID-19. And in fact, there is what we've referred to as a spark grants program. That was your idea, and it's much broader than the sciences. Can you just very quickly describe what it is, and give us an idea one or two of the initial projects that were funded internally at Dartmouth in this area?

Madden:

Sure. Thanks, Joe. This was a really exciting opportunity. It was a stars-aligned moment. We have funds from an anonymous donor that we could quickly deploy, and with something like COVID-19, there's a real need to move very fast and capture the data in real time. So, we put out a call for small 5 to $10,000 grants across campus, and we got a really robust response. We got a response from all disciplines, and I'll just ... we've got nine projects that are funded so far. I'm really excited about all of them, but I wanted to touch on maybe I'll pick two examples. Several of the projects focus on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in vulnerable populations. One of those populations is the fact that pregnant women, who have been sort of shifted out into tele-health. And in a rural environment like ours, that can be very problematic because some people don't have access to internet or cell phones.

And so, you've got a population that's essentially been cut off from healthcare at a critical moment. And these faculty members discovered, it was a very creative idea, they can get cheap cell phones, provide them to these women, who then can use the cell coverage to get access to their telehealth services. So, they're delivering phones, and then they're going to track the outcomes and see if this is perhaps a model that will not only help in COVID for these individuals but serve as a model for telehealth.

And then the other example, just to sort of go to the far end of the spectrum, we had a really creative proposal that came in collaboration between the physics department and film and media studies, to synthesize interviews and put together a film on life in the time of corona. So, I'd say, stay tuned, we hope that we'll be coming to theaters soon.

Helble:

That's great. I look forward to hearing about that. And that demonstrates, I think quite nicely, this idea has engaged the full breadth of the campus in finding ways to apply their expertise, to answer interesting and challenging and important questions related to COVID. So, thank you, Dean. Justin, we turn it back to you for questions that may be coming in from the outside for the next five or six minutes or so.

Anderson:

Yeah. Thanks, Joe. Dean, I think we'll, we'll stick with you for this first question, which is an interesting one. A lot of safety protocols in the lab call for more than one person in the lab at a time. In case of an accident, someone else can help. How does the COVID-19 lab ramp up of one person in a lab at a time address this?

Madden:

It's an excellent question, Justin, and it's one that we wrestled with quite a bit. So, there are two answers to that. The first is that in some cases where there's relatively low risk research, you can simply use an online buddy system, staying in contact with a colleague while you're in the lab, and then doing a handshake as you come in and leave. That's what we're recommending whenever possible. In cases where that's not safe, where really do need to have another person present, we will actually ask EHS to review and approve a specific protocol to ensure safety.

Anderson:

This next question, I want to build off something that Joe asked about the length of time that we expect it's going to take for a vaccine to be released. This question, and I'm going to direct this to both David and Margie. So, David, if you want to tackle this first, the question is, are you concerned private entities releasing results of COVID treatments out into the public in advance of peer reviewed publications? And relatedly, what can the academic community do to educate the public on the importance of peer review, and the well-established process that treatments have to go through before they're released to the public?

Lein:

Justin, that's a great question, especially the first part. And I think that we're all seeing a deluge of information that's coming out through the internet through completely unfiltered sources. And even learning journals currently have a fast-tracked research release program, which it seems to be an expedited peer review. And I do have some concerns. That said, this is really ... it's wartime, kind of, and we feel like it's important that information get disseminated quickly. But there's clearly a balance that needs to be set between the need for quick information and the need for correct information. And I am quite concerned about it.

Ackerman:

We have journal clubs among our graduate students and some of them this term has spent some of their time discussing this very notion of how important ... what are the balances and tradeoffs between timely information and thoroughly vetted professional information? And I think that profile is changing over time. I think we've seen a real flurry of academic inquiry, and we'll start to see a return to usual levels of review and a calmer pace and findings that we can all be more confident in.

Anderson:

Margie, I'm going to stay with you for this next question. It is in fact directed at you specifically. This questioner asks if you are looking at the antibodies of how this virus is developing in the syndrome that has been reported to be occurring in children.

Ackerman:

We have not had access to any samples that would help us address that problem. I think that's just one of many questions where the toolkit that the grad students have started to build, we hope to deploy it in coming weeks and months with additional hospital and clinical partners.

Anderson:

Dean, I'm going to go back to you. This is a question, it's about research, but specifically for undergraduates. What is the plan for undergraduates who are planning to do a senior thesis, and need access to labs in order to conduct the research for that thesis?

Madden:

Right. And this is a really important question. I unfortunately don't have a crisp answer, because it's going to depend very tightly on the situation that evolves with respect to fall term. But I just want everyone to know that we are very interested in doing everything we can to accelerate and facilitate this kind of research. And we'll be working with the task force to make sure that it's possible to any extent that we can.

Anderson:

We have time for just one more question, and Dean, I'm going to stay with you because it's something that you and Joe talked about for a little bit earlier. And that's about moving from phase one of the reopening to phase two, and this questioner asks specifically, what is the data that will be used in making the decision to move to phase two of the research reopening, and how will it be collected?

Madden:

So, Joe, do you want me to take that one? All right. So, there are several sources, and I'm going to be brief, because I know time is short. Everybody coming on campus needs to fill out a health screening app, and we are able to collate and track that data day to day, and it gives us good access. In parallel, we have tight connections to the state testing labs and to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, to basically our ... and Dick's House, the student health service. And we'll be tracking those data in parallel with the occupancy data that we are getting from the screening. The screening app also tracks where people are on campus.

And then finally, we are going to be able to use the lab calendars to do any contact tracing that's necessary, should isolated COVID cases emerge. And so, this really will enable us to test our ability to track and control the spread of COVID. And of course, over a couple of weeks, we're going to already start to see whether we're getting an uptick or whether things are remaining stable.

Helble:

Thank you, Dean. So, Dean, Margie, and David, thanks so much for being with us today. And Justin, thank you for moderating the discussion, and thanks to all of you who submitted your questions today. I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to get to all of them.

This concludes our conversation today. We'll be back next week for the next in the series of community conversations with updates on operational activities and decisions that will be made over the course of the next week. And joining me next week will be Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, and Chair of the Board of Trustees Laurel Richie to address your questions and also speak in part at our intensified and deepening commitment to building resources to support financial aid for our students over the course of the next few years. Thank you, everyone. Look forward to seeing you next week.