Community Conversations: Vaccines, Doughnuts, and Hope for a Return to 'Normal'

Ann Bracken, MED '89, and Michael Wooten were guests on this week's broadcast.

Watch the April 14 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble; Ann Bracken, MED '89, director of clinical medical services; and Michael Wooten, associate dean of undergraduate residential life.

Students will need to show proof that they have received one of the COVID-19 vaccines the FDA has approved for emergency use before they arrive on campus for fall term—or request a religious or medical exemption from the Dartmouth Health Service (Dick's House)—just as they do for other vaccinations prior to matriculation, Provost Joseph Helble said during this week's Community Conversations webcast.

This week's episode featured Ann Bracken, MED '89, director of clinical medical services at the Dartmouth College Health Service, and Michael Wooten, associate dean of undergraduate residential life and director of residential education, in a conversation moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.

The vaccine requirement comes as the state of New Hampshire begins next week to extend vaccine eligibility to out-of-state students. If students don't have access to the approved vaccines—currently Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (use of which is currently paused by the FDA)—they will be expected to get vaccinated when they return to Hanover, Helble said. Dartmouth is in conversation with state officials about options to provide a vaccination site on or near campus.

Employees are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, but the requirement for students is necessary because "they are living in close quarters to one another, and we know, through everything we've learned this past year, that that's one of the most critical areas for controlling the spread of infection," Helble said.

Bracken echoed this. "We have a lot of vaccines that are required for students in congregate living situations," she said. "There's a long history of requiring vaccines to protect the population."

Students should submit their COVID-19 vaccination records to Dick's House; employees are encouraged to submit this information to Axiom, Dartmouth's occupational medicine partner.

"We have a long way to go to reach the federal government's goal of 200 million vaccinations by the end of April, and to begin approaching the levels of community immunity that will allow us return to what we longingly refer to as 'normal life,' " Helble said—but this development has made it possible to "anticipate that all members of the Dartmouth community will be vaccinated before the start of fall term this September."

As more members of the community become vaccinated, Dartmouth will begin to relax some COVID-19 restrictions. These include:

  • More facilities reopening, including, as of now, the running track at Memorial Field and the Topliff and Sachem Village tennis courts, which are open to on-campus-approved students, as well as faculty and staff.
  • More relaxed travel guidelines: Although Dartmouth still discourages personal travel, beginning April 19, all fully vaccinated faculty, staff, and students will be able to participate in Dartmouth-sponsored travel within the U.S., and unvaccinated individuals will be permitted to participate in Dartmouth-sponsored travel within New England (or elsewhere, with a waiver. All international travel requires a waiver).

Asked about plans for commencement for the Class of 2021, Helble called it "highly, highly unlikely" that guests would be allowed at the June 13 open-air ceremony at Memorial Field. "We do not have the capability within our facilities—even with reduced social-distancing practices in place, even with it being outdoors—to accommodate two guests per graduate," he said.

Looking ahead, Wooten said that the campus will likely see a 30% to 40% increase in the number of students typically in residence over the summer term, as many members of the Class of 2022, who did not have an in-residence sophomore summer last year, will be on campus along with the sophomores in the Class of 2023.

"The numbers still won't be as high as they usually are the other three terms," Wooten said. "I've been using the language of an 'on-ramp' "—that is, the summer term will allow the community to prepare for the anticipated shift back to more normal operations in the fall.

Asked about Dartmouth Outing Club Trips, which are currently being planned for the incoming Class of 2025, Wooten acknowledged that the current first-year Class of 2024 has not yet had an opportunity to participate in this Dartmouth tradition.

Though it's too early to say what programming might be available for the '24s in the coming year, Wooten said, "We're all eager to support our students in what is really one of the jewels of the experience of being at Dartmouth, which is the outdoor experience."

Bracken addressed a question about what Dartmouth is doing to provide mental health services to students.

"It's been a really rough year for everyone's mental health," she said, noting that the counseling center staff is in daily contact with students in isolation and quarantine. "We've also hired a lot of new counselors, and counselors are doing a lot of outreach and communicating."

Primary-care staff also provides mental health services, including telehealth, phone, and in-person visits.

"So there's a lot of support related to mental health," Bracken said. "And students are reaching out to us when they're concerned about their peers, too. We continue to try to engage with students related to their mental health—we want to hear from them if they're worried about themselves or a friend."

During business hours, students on or off campus can make an appointment with a counselor by calling 603-646-9442, or with primary care provider at 603-646-9401. Crisis services are available 24/7 at 603-646-9440. For more information, visit the Dick's House website.

Other announcements this week include:

  • The deadline for students to elect the nonrecording option (NRO) for eligible classes has been extended to May 19.
  • Ivy League teams are now permitted to compete in limited, local, non-Ivy games this spring within 100 miles of Hanover, albeit without in-person spectators. Men's and women's tennis, softball, women's and men's track and field, and possibly heavyweight rowing, are all expected to participate. Stay tuned for schedule and live-stream details.
  • On Tuesday, April 27, May 1, and May 25, three locations will provide an hour for students, faculty, and staff to gather and enjoy a snack. ("I'm personally rooting for doughnuts at least once, but I know that my opinion may not carry the day," Helble said.) Details will be published in the Vox Daily email soon.

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. Broadcasts will continue at least through the end of spring term. The next show airs April 28.

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

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.