First-Year Trips to be scaled down following COVID-19 concerns
The College also announced new COVID-19 precautions, including increased testing, for the fall term.
Trip leaders arriving on campus Thursday were required to test for COVID-19 at a tent on Tuck Drive.
Updated 10:14 p.m. with additional information from College spokesperson Diana Lawrence.
Incoming students were notified by First-Year Trips Thursday evening that much of the program will be relocated to areas closer to campus and that Trips departures, originally scheduled for Sept. 4 and 5, will be delayed by one day. Trips will now use campus as a “‘home base’ from which to venture forth on their activities,” and participants will be spending nights in their fall term dorm rooms rather than camping, according to an email sent to Trips participants and obtained by The Dartmouth.
The email said that “the bulk of the content of First-Year Trips remains unchanged,” explaining that each Trip will still spend one day on or near campus, one day doing “an activity related to your Trip type, be it hiking, biking, cooking, or farming” and one day at a Dartmouth Outing Club lodge.
College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an emailed statement that the College “wanted to carefully consider” any changes to First-Year Trips “given the importance of this Dartmouth tradition to our students and their families,” but that the change was made as COVID-19 conditions have recently “rapidly change[d].” She also wrote that while the College is still finalizing its plans, the change will have “minimal impact” on New Student Orientation.
Lawrence wrote that “Trip leaders and crew members will be focused on building community with our first-year students” during the evenings on Trips, even though groups will be on campus. She also wrote that the College is “working on providing opportunities for virtual engagement” for any arriving students who test positive for COVID-19.
Participants in the program will eat both at Dartmouth Dining facilities and in the field, Lawrence wrote.
As for Trip leaders, Lawrence wrote that the College is “working closely with Residential Life to accommodate as many Trip leaders as possible in the residence halls.” In response to a question about whether or not any will sleep outdoors, Lawrence wrote that “just as if we were in the field, some communal overnights will be necessary.”
Trip leaders were notified last night that the program was considering delaying departures in order to “provide ample time for all students arriving on campus to receive a PCR test result,” according to an email obtained by The Dartmouth. The email noted that that decision had “not yet been made or confirmed” at that time.
The College also announced new COVID-19 guidelines earlier today in a campus-wide email from interim Provost David Kotz ’86 and executive vice president Rick Mills. According to the email, vaccinated students and employees working on site will now need to receive a COVID-19 test once per week, while unvaccinated students will still need to test twice per week. Also, in addition to on-site testing available at West Gym, students will have the option to use take-home testing kits beginning later this month.
The email also said that in light of COVID-19 outbreaks among returning students at peer institutions, masks will now be required in all indoor locations, including residence halls, unless in a “private, non-shared space” such as a dorm room or private office. The mandate will be reviewed the week of Sept. 20, as Kotz and Mills are “hopeful that public-health conditions will permit us to relax this precaution at that time.”
Some of Dartmouth’s peer institutions have seen significant COVID-19 outbreaks over the past two weeks. Cornell University has seen 263 students test positive this week after move-in and the first week of classes, and the university’s quarantine housing is currently at 44% capacity. However, the Cornell Daily Sun reported that there have been “no cases of serious illness” so far.
Additionally, Duke University reported a total of 377 active cases on campus as of Monday afternoon, including 364 positive tests since Aug. 23. Emory University also reported earlier today that over 3% of screening tests administered over the last 10 days have come back positive.
Kotz and Mills also wrote that in the event of a significant COVID-19 outbreak on campus, Boss Tennis Center may be used “in an urgent situation” to provide large-scale isolation housing. The space, which the email says could be used to accommodate up to 100 students, will be divided into 10-by-10-foot “personalized spaces,” each containing a cot and separated by curtains for privacy. The College is also increasing the building’s Wi-Fi capacity and will designate spaces for eating and studying in order to “make the space as comfortable as possible.”
“Ideally, this would not have been necessary, but living with COVID-19 requires us to make difficult decisions that prioritize the physical and mental health of our community and maintain campus operations that allow us to pursue Dartmouth’s mission in as normal a manner as possible under the circumstances,” Kotz and Mills wrote in the email.
This is a developing story, and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Correction appended (8:50 p.m., Sept. 2, 2021): A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Trips were originally scheduled to depart on Sept. 3 and 4. They were originally scheduled to depart on Sept. 4 and 5, and will now depart Sept. 5 and 6.