With over 1,500 new cases among faculty, staff and students since the term started and a testing positivity rate of over 14% this past week, one would be hard-pressed to find a friend group, class or dorm that has managed to entirely avoid the clutches of COVID-19. And, as Student Assembly first shared in its email communications and the administration continues to remind students, this should come as no surprise: Dartmouth anticipated this staggering caseload and adjusted its policies accordingly, doing away with isolation housing, setting up a shockingly high quality isolation dining experience and allowing people the chance to test out with a negative rapid test after five or seven days. The College has done good work in preparing for the inevitable, but glaring issues remain: Dartmouth must do more to ease the lives of those who, by virtue of the College’s decision to treat COVID-19 as endemic, have contracted the virus.
It must be said that students are not wholly dissatisfied with Dartmouth’s current approach to COVID-19. Indeed, many, including a majority of this Editorial Board, are pleased with the College’s prioritization of in-person classes and treatment of COVID-19 as endemic. Certain policies put in place to care for positive students are indicative of the attempt the College has made to bolster student health; for instance, the daily survey sent to students in isolation allows students to report any changes in their symptoms and check in with a nurse if needed. Furthermore, the pop-up dining location in Sarner Underground exclusively for students in isolation has been a surprising joy in isolating students’ otherwise dull days. An array of warm food is provided twice a day, students are encouraged to take as many snacks as they would like and the staff are positively joyous, given the circumstances. Sarner’s setup would be improved by a breakfast time slot — yogurt and oatmeal packets only go so far — especially if the number of students in isolation continues to increase or even stabilizes at its current level. Nonetheless, we applaud the substantial improvements that have been made to the isolation dining experience relative to previous terms.
That said, the College could do a far better job tending to the health of these isolating students. First, part of Dartmouth’s current testing regimen — where students can potentially test out of isolation on days five or seven via rapid antigen tests — is conducted outside, where in the past week transient snow storms and feels-like temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees have made life difficult for even the healthiest students. Given that many students who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past several weeks are, indeed, symptomatic and feeling under the weather, would it be so difficult to set up a heated tent — the same kind that has been a staple on campus on and off for two years — outside Dick’s House for students to use while they wait upwards of a half hour for a rapid test?
Wellness kits are also essential to keeping students safe and comfortable while they struggle through isolation. While some students have a ready supply of over-the-counter medicine, disinfecting wipes and KN95 masks, many lack those provisions. Providing a simple bag with these cold and flu basics, as well as informational pamphlets for students to understand and treat their symptoms, would go a long way in protecting the health of our community and letting students cooped up in their rooms know that they haven’t been forgotten. Not only would these supplies be relatively inexpensive and easy to assemble, but they would make a massive impact on students’ quality of life during isolation.
Lastly, as we discussed in our last Verbum, it is imperative that all Dartmouth courses have some sort of Zoom or recorded option. During this especially short 9 week winter term, immunocompromised and infected students simply can’t afford to miss class for five, seven or even 10 days. To ensure students don’t fall impossibly behind while isolating, the College should strongly consider requiring instructors to offer all course material in the virtual as well as the in-person format.
It is the duty of the College to tend to the health and well-being of all students, especially those suffering from a virus that has been almost impossible to avoid. Thus, we are turning to the administration and asking them to do better — set up a tent, distribute wellness kits and require hybrid instruction so that those students who do test positive don’t have to sacrifice their education. No student — especially not those who have fallen ill — should be left out in the cold.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.
Correction appended (10:55 p.m., Jan. 22, 2022): A previous version of this article implied that the College is not offering isolation housing to immunocompromised students. According to College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, Dartmouth is, in fact, offering accommodations for students with underlying health conditions, and this housing option has beds available. The article has been updated accordingly.
Students with health conditions can apply for temporary housing by following these instructions.