Students react with a mix of confusion, apprehension and nonchalance to the rise in COVID-19 cases and slow updates to Dartmouth’s dashboard.
After a week of fraternity events shutting down and students obsessively checking the COVID-19 Dashboard, it seems fitting that I virtually raised my hand to write about this topic at the hastily-moved-to-Zoom Mirror story assignment meeting. Inevitably, COVID-19 has made its way back to Dartmouth’s campus — there have been a total of 26 new cases in the past seven days, including 12 undergraduate students.
Many students attribute the rise in cases to a flurry of on and off campus activity. Between parents’ weekend from Oct. 22–24 to the football game against Harvard University on Oct. 30 — for which students took party buses to and from Boston — we have certainly had interactions outside “our little bubble of Dartmouth,” as Chandini Peddanna ’25 phrased it.
Yet, as rumors spread after the Harvard game that students were testing positive, the COVID-19 Dashboard did not update — it does not do so on the weekends.. Between Oct. 29 and later in the day on Nov. 1, there were seemingly only three cases at the College — leaving many students largely unaware of what the true state of COVID-19 cases was.
Some were doubtful of this number, including Grant Dator ’24.
“I feel like I’ve heard of more people [testing positive for COVID-19] than are on the dashboard,” Dator said. “Not even people that I know personally, but just like through other people that have classes with them.”
The number of positive undergraduate cases eventually rose to nine. As the weekend of Oct. 30 was also ‘Halloweekend,’ many students took this opportunity to dress in costume and go to parties; the dashboard’s lack of updates gave students a false sense of security during a weekend in which many students went out.
Moreover, as increasing COVID-19 cases continue to be a topic of conversation, there is a feeling of slight distrust in the dashboard — which Mariel Fulghum ’25 described as “confusing.”
“I don’t actually know if there are only ten cases, or if there are more and they just haven't updated it yet,” Fulghum said.
Some students do not care about the slow dashboard updates, as they are not particularly nervous about COVID-19. Football player Trevon Erickson ’24 noted that although a few people on his team had to sit out of practice due to potential exposure, he is not concerned and has no plans to change his routine.
On the other hand, the influx of cases has made some students more hesitant as to which social spaces they frequent.
“I would say I’m less enthused to go to frats,” Peddanna said. “I’m not afraid, but it’s just in the back of my head.”
Some Greek houses have cancelled events over the last week, according to Jeffrey Liu ’24, a fraternity member (he declined to specify which house he is affiliated with).
“Some frats — if they have a COVID case — will shut down for that night or for a few nights or cancel an event,” Liu said.
Multiple other students involved in Greek life, both leadership and members, declined to comment for this article.
Although social spaces are, potentially, a contributing factor to increased positive cases, some students are hesitant to acknowledge that COVID-19 may spread in Greek houses because they do not want to see policies grow stricter.
“I think it’s a possibility that [the administration] could react the same [as last academic year]” Erickson said. “I definitely wouldn’t want to go back to how things were in the spring. To me, that was an overreaction.”
Peddanna echoed Erickson’s sentiments, adding that she believes you can just as easily contract COVID-19 in the close quarters of Foco, the dorms or the library as you could in a Greek house.
“As always, we are monitoring public health conditions and our own community transmission rates and will adjust policies as needed,” College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an emailed statement. “There are no plans to change campus guidelines at this time.”
Even as the administration says that they have no intent to change campus guidelines, I am still hesitant to make sweeping claims about what facilitates the spread of COVID-19 on campus. As a student at Dartmouth, I still want to be able to experience eating dinner with my friends, traveling off campus and going to frat parties; likewise, sports teams want to have a season, a capella groups want to have performances and students want to have in-person classes. At the same time, I certainly do not want to get sick right before finals and the end of the term. Therefore, it is difficult to balance keeping the community — especially vulnerable populations — safe while also not depriving the students of enriching and special experiences.