Aug. 26, 2020 Update
To the Dartmouth community,
Last week, we told you that we were going to pause and carefully review our plan to bring undergraduates to campus for the fall term. We listened as many of you--students, faculty, staff, parents, and Upper Valley community members--expressed your preference for how we should proceed. We have heard you and considered your arguments and understandable concerns.
We have also evaluated our plan considering the most relevant experiences of our peers. While the return of students has gone smoothly at many institutions, others have been forced to close their campuses quickly because of COVID-19 outbreaks. One thing is clear from our conversations with you and from our peers' experiences: No decision at this time, during the pandemic, will satisfy everyone.
We have, however, made the decision that we think honors our mission while implementing safeguards for the protection of our community. After much careful consideration, we have decided to move forward with our plan to return approximately half of our undergraduate student body to Dartmouth, beginning Sept. 8.
As a residential college with a mission to deliver the world's premier liberal arts education in a close-knit, vibrant community in a setting ideal for learning and reflection, we are committed to making on-campus learning happen for as many of our students as possible. We believe our reopening plan, announced earlier this summer, allows us to do this, giving most undergraduates the chance to be on campus for some portion of the coming academic year, while continuing to provide high-quality instruction to all students, regardless of location. It also allows us to provide students with more resources to complete their work, which some may not have at home.
Our goal is to manage our plan effectively and safely while respecting and sustaining the hard work the Upper Valley has done to flatten the curve. We recognize that all institutions of higher education are dealing with the same virus, but each of us is managing a unique set of variables when it comes to the transmission and spread of COVID-19. A number of schools, particularly in New England, have opened using strategies and tactics similar to ours and have not experienced significant outbreaks. Our plan is science-based and data-driven and it leverages our rural setting and comparatively low population.
Our plan provides for pre-arrival testing for domestic undergraduate students approved to live off and on campus for the fall term; testing on arrival and on days three and seven for all students; 14 days of quarantine following arrival; wastewater monitoring of residential buildings; regular surveillance testing throughout the term; a required daily temperature and symptom self-assessment screening for all students, faculty, and staff entering campus buildings; restrictions on the size of groups that may meet, a hygiene campaign, and a mandatory face-covering policy; and clear community expectations that all enrolling students are expected to sign as a condition for access to campus.
We recognize that it is impossible to project the progression of this disease over the coming months. For that reason, we will remain attentive to the number of positive tests in our campus population relative to the surrounding region, the rate of change in numbers of positive tests, the availability of sufficient quarantine and isolation capacity in our system, and the status of local health care systems in assessing our continued operation.
While setting a threshold to adjust our plan based on an absolute number of cases on campus does not take into account important factors such as identifiable risks or whether cases were part of a containable cluster, we will use a 1% positivity rate in our testing cohort--largely undergraduates--in any given week as a trigger for an immediate review of our in-person operational status.
Beginning next week, we will share information on a dashboard on our COVID-19 website (https://news.dartmouth.edu/covid-19/covid-19-coronavirus-information) to allow community members to view the metrics we will use to evaluate whether a transition back to fully remote learning will be required. The dashboard will include the number of tests administered, positive cases, and quarantine and isolation information. To date, we have tested 1,015 graduate and professional students and have not identified any positive cases of the virus.
We expect that there will be challenges and setbacks along the way. Having students back on campus will only work if we are all invested in our success and committed to doing our part to protect the health and safety of every person. Each of us will need to continue to sacrifice our personal preferences and interests to prioritize the health of our friends, colleagues, and community members.
And to our students, you are vital members of our beloved Dartmouth community. Along with faculty, staff and alumni, we believe in you and have great confidence in your ability to meet this moment. We look forward to partnering with you to carry out our plan. And, most importantly, we look forward to welcoming you to campus.
President Philip J. Hanlon '77
Provost Joseph Helble