College will forge ahead with in-person operations, classes for winter term

Despite the spread of the omicron variant and decisions by several peer institutions to move online or delay arrival, Dartmouth will stick with its plans for winter term.

by The Dartmouth Senior Staff | 12/29/21 11:30pm

by Angelina Scarlotta / The Dartmouth

Updated 1:00 a.m., Dec. 31, 2021. 

Dartmouth will move forward with in-person instruction for the beginning of winter term, interim provost David Kotz and executive vice president Rick Mills announced in an email today. 

The announcement, which emphasized the mental health and community benefits of in-person classes and interactions, commits the College to a different initial path than most of its Ivy League peers — most of which have announced shifts to online classes or delays to arrival on campus in response to the fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19. Brown University also intends to maintain in-person operations, and Cornell University has not yet made an announcement. 

The decision also comes amid student pressure to maintain in-person operations. A Student Assembly email to Kotz and Mills and forwarded to campus urged keeping campus “as open as possible,” and The Dartmouth Editorial Board echoed its sentiments several days later. 

However, Kotz and Mills wrote, it is possible that some or all classes may transition online “at some point during the term for some period of time.” Faculty members and their deans will manage individual course adjustments, while the COVID Leadership Group and Dartmouth’s senior leadership will make institution-wide decisions about moving online — something that would only happen “after exploring all other reasonable options.”

Students should plan to arrive for in-person classes the first week of January as scheduled, and will all be required to complete a PCR test at West Gym within 48 hours of arriving on campus. An additional email from the COVID-19 response team sent later on Wednesday afternoon stated that students will also be able to pick up take-home tests when they go to take their arrival test. 

Academic, research and related operational activities are to proceed as planned, according to the email. Research lab activities, gym use, club meetings, arts and athletic activities and library use will all be permitted — with the exception of first-floor Berry seating, which will be unavailable until “further notice.” College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an emailed statement that the closure “part of our strategy to minimize the number of high-risk transmission scenarios where consistent masking or physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

On-campus dining will be exclusively grab-and-go for at least two weeks. When asked about where students are allowed to eat other than their dorm rooms, Lawrence wrote that alternative locations would “replicate the conditions of eating inside the dining hall.”

Kotz and Mills also announced that the College will “update its isolation protocol informed by the CDC’s most recent isolation guidance and will communicate additional details regarding isolation in the near future.” Students who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to isolate “in place at their residence” and may need to isolate with a roommate who has tested negative, although they can leave their rooms to collect grab-and-go meals as needed. 

On Dec. 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended isolation period for individuals with COVID-19 from 10 to five days. It is unclear whether or not the College will adopt this policy. 

Per the Dec. 17 announcement, all students, faculty and staff are required to receive a COVID-19 booster shot by Jan. 31; individuals who are not currently eligible must receive their booster within 30 days of becoming eligible. The College will host booster clinics at Alumni Hall in the Hopkins Center for the Arts on Jan. 10 and 11, and registration will open in early January. Lawrence wrote that Dartmouth hopes to add booster shot data to the COVID-19 dashboard by late January. 

Students and employees must complete one PCR test per week, and unvaccinated individuals will be required to complete two PCR tests per week. 

Indoor social gatherings will be limited in size with mandatory face coverings for at least the first two weeks of January. Outdoor gatherings will be permitted, with more detail on specific size to come next week, the email stated. Indoor masking will continue “until further notice,” and Kotz and Mills wrote that they “strongly encourage” the use of medical-grade masks. Lawrence confirmed that the College will provide medical-grade masks to students and faculty. 

This article has been updated with comments from Lawrence.