Students Consider Spring Term in Light of Winter Outbreak
An uncertain mix of excitement and apprehension abounds on campus.
As spring begins, many students are left wondering what they can expect from this upcoming term. After a fall term with low rates of COVID-19 transmission, the College loosened some restrictions on campus life for the winter; for example, students were able to visit other residential facilities following the quarantine period and no reservations were required to study in Baker-Berry Library. However, in the final weeks of the term, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed — with the number of active student cases reaching 143 at the outbreak’s peak — causing campus to revert back to phase two of arrival quarantine. Though that wave has receded, an air of uncertainty remains around what awaits students this spring.
Some students feel a bit uneasy about the prospects for spring term. Dante LaRocco ’22 lived on-campus during the fall, then took an off-term this winter while living locally in Hanover. Now, he is back on campus and worries that last term’s outbreak could prompt stricter policies this term that will further limit student life.
“I feel like before the whole outbreak, I expected [spring] to be somewhat similar to [fall] — I wouldn't say it was normal, but all that being considered, it was a Dartmouth term where I got to see my friends and experience being on campus,” LaRocco said. “But after the outbreak, it was called into question whether this [term] would be similar to what the fall was, or would the restrictions be higher?”
During the winter term, some clubs had begun to hold small in-person meetings and events. Now, some students worry that the outbreak will lead clubs and campus organizations to roll back these live meetings.
Ginger Link ’24 said that Cabin and Trail, for example, was planning to hold an in-person meeting for a limited number of people, but after the outbreak, she is unsure if that will still happen.
The threat of another COVID-19 outbreak is still a major concern for students. Alyssa Lebarron ’24, who has been on campus since the fall, said she felt unsafe on campus once the COVID-19 count reached 100 positive cases at the end of winter term and ultimately decided, as many others did, to leave in early March as a result. The outbreak did not change her plans to come to campus for the spring, but did change her outlook on the term.
“I've had to become more accepting of the idea that I might have to leave, so it feels more temporary — or, I guess, more unstable,” Lebarron said. “... It has made me a little bit more anxious though, especially right now. I see some people gathering, and I get a little bit shaky.”
Currently, under the College’s arrival quarantine guidelines, students are allowed to walk outside on campus with one other person if both are masked and staying six feet apart, according to an email from College Health Service director Mark Reed and associate dean of residential life Michael Wooten. However, many students may not be strictly adhering to these restrictions.
“I feel like people are getting a lot more lax,” LaRocco said. “[On Saturday], there were so many people on the Green. In the fall, it took us at least until we got out of quarantine to do that.”
Lebarron worried that students are letting their guard down too soon, leaving her concerned about the future of the term.
“People can still test positive in the early stages of quarantine,” Lebarron said. “It increased my anxiety when I saw a large group of people gathering outside my dorm or without masks on and in very, very close proximity.”
However, LaRocco acknowledges that the recent rollout of the vaccine creates a new dynamic around breaking Dartmouth’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“In the fall, not as many people were vaccinated, but now you don't know who has a vaccine and who doesn't,” LaRocco said. “It's not all on an equal playing field. So, I'd be fine if some people who had the vaccine were hanging out on the Green or something.”
Link hopes that last term’s outbreak will serve as a warning to students and discourage them from partaking in risky behaviors that violate College guidelines. However, she doesn’t believe that the outbreak will deter all students from socializing in unsafe ways.
“I would hope that people learn that if you have a party, something like this is bound to happen, and it screws stuff up for the rest of us as well,” Link said. “I just really hope that people are more careful and realize more what their actions mean, but I don't think that's going to happen.”
Despite fear of a second outbreak, Link was reassured by how the College managed to effectively halt the spread of the virus during winter term.
“The outbreak did happen, but it was dealt with pretty quickly. It seems like the people who dealt with [the outbreak] … understood the nature of what happened,” Link said.
Overall, LaRocco is still optimistic about spring term and is excited that the campus seems more lively. He also thinks spring has the best weather and campus atmosphere.
“Just seeing everybody hanging out on the Green, campus was just popping. It was absolutely crazy,” he said. “I think that a lot of people, especially the upperclassmen, are excited to get back and be able to experience some sort of Dartmouth spring because it's really nice.”
Link is hopeful that the College will continue to explore ways to expand in-person opportunities for socialization this spring, even in light of the outbreak.
“I do hope that the College still continues to open things up a little more and look at ways to have more in person events,” Link said. “It seems that is still the way things are going, even with everything that’s happened, and I think that's a positive thing.”