College temporarily closes Alumni Gym, sends reminder emails in response to student non-compliance with COVID-19 measures

According to interim Provost David Kotz, the Wednesday closure of the gym is intended to incentivize mask-wearing and respect for gym staff. Prior to the closure, a “communication mishap” on Tuesday led to students being turned away at the Alumni Gym

by Sophie Lewis | 10/7/21 5:15am

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Interim Provost David Kotz said that before any COVID-19 requirements are relaxed, the College expects to see better student compliance with weekly testing and mask wearing. 

by Beam Lertbunnaphongs / The Dartmouth

In response to student noncompliance with the indoor mask mandate at Alumni Gymnasium and some noncompliance with weekly testing, the College closed the gym for general recreational activity on Wednesday and sent testing reminder emails on Monday. 

Despite the closure, club sports teams were still able to hold practices in the Alumni Gymnasium, and the West Gym testing center remained open. A few days earlier on Monday, students who failed to complete COVID-19 testing last week received emails from the College instructing them to get tested within 48 hours. 

Mask Compliance

During the Sept. 29 “Community Conversations,” interim athletics director Peter Roby warned of a potential 24-hour gym closure.

“If we can’t keep the mask-wearing going at a high rate, it may force us to try to get everybody’s attention about the fact that it’s a privilege, and close the facility, maybe for 24 hours — make some people angry,” Roby said.

Interim Provost David Kotz said that gym staff have struggled to promote consistent mask wearing. He added that instances of verbal abuse from gym patrons who refuse to wear masks properly forced at least one student worker to quit their job.

“The goal here is to remind people that use of the recreational facilities is a privilege and that masking is required in order to use those facilities, and we hope that when they reopen that people will remember that they need to use them responsibly, and that includes treating the staff and the student workers appropriately,” Kotz said.

Melissa Chau GR’22, a weekend manager at Alumni Gymnasium, said her job duties include hourly rounds to ensure compliance with masking guidelines.

“Typically what happens is that you ask [gym patrons] to put on a mask, and they go and put on the mask, and then once you leave, they’ll take it off again,” she said. “It does feel unsafe, but for me and for a lot of people that work desk positions, we are typically socially distanced.”

Chau said that she personally supports the gym closure.

“It does tell students that the College is being serious,” she said. “There are consequences to our actions in that we should probably be more responsible as a student body in protecting the health of others, because there are people like adults who go to the gym, who have families, who interact with the community of Hanover.”

Associate athletic director for club sports and intramurals Heather Somers wrote in an email to indoor club sports members on Tuesday that the College would be announcing the 24-hour closing of West Gym, Zimmerman Fitness Center and the squash and racquetball courts later that day.   

The email, obtained by The Dartmouth, cited “several issues with the general student body” as the reason for closing and noted that club sports teams had largely been in compliance with the rules. 

“The hope is to get people’s attention so that overall compliance and respect for the College’s policy and building staff improves,” Somers wrote. 

While a sign was put up outside the front entrance to the gym, the rest of the general student body was not otherwise informed of the gym closure. 

Testing

Between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m, students who had missed their COVID-19 test the previous week received testing reminder emails, according to five of the emails obtained by The Dartmouth. These messages — the first of their kind to be sent out this term — directed students to complete their test within two days and informed them that testing hours at West Gym had been extended until 5 p.m. that day. 

However, due to a “communications mishap,” the testing site had closed at 3 p.m., and recipients of the reminder email were turned away at the door. Kotz described the situation as “frustrating.” 

“Communications mishap is a perfect description,” Kotz said. “I don’t know the details, but I do understand that there was some miscommunication that caused the center to close earlier than what it was supposed to.”

Colin Kearns ’25 was one of several dozen students who was turned away from the testing site shortly before 5 p.m. Kearns said he had been getting tested weekly, until long lines at the testing facility forced him to skip a test last week.

“I asked my friend who was in line how long they’d been waiting — they [were] like halfway in line, and it had been 45 minutes,” he said, noting his experience last week. “I made an appointment expecting that they would do it at the appointment time, but didn’t expect to have to wait an hour and a half to get it.”

Kotz said that the College is still working to coordinate the logistics of at-home COVID-19 testing, which he hopes will make the testing process more convenient for students.

Before any requirements are relaxed, the College wants to see better compliance with weekly testing and mask wearing, according to Kotz. In addition to gym facilities, administrators are concerned about inconsistent mask wearing in the library.

“We would like to see 100% of students wearing masks now so that we can continue to provide access to much-loved library spaces as well as support for your research and learning,” associate librarian Jennifer Taxman wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth. “We look forward to the day when masks are no longer required so we can greet everyone with a smiling face.” 

Kotz said he can’t provide details on disciplinary actions that may be taken if students continue to disregard College COVID-19 protocol. 

“We obviously would rather not have to impose any consequences,” he said.

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