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April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth, Hanover and SAU-70 school district to lift indoor mask mandates next week

Dartmouth will lift its mandate, and Hanover will pause its mandate, on March 16. The school district will lift its mandate on March 14 under pressure from the state.

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Updated 5:13 p.m., March 11, 2022 with an interview with provost David Kotz. 

The College will lift its indoor mask mandate effective March 16, executive vice president Rick Mills and provost David Kotz wrote in an email to campus Friday afternoon. In conjunction with the College, the town of Hanover will suspend its indoor mask mandate on March 16 as well, town manager Julia Griffin confirmed in an interview Friday afternoon. 

The announcements come two years to the day after the College announced the cancellation of all spring varsity and club athletic events — and the next day moved classes online for what was, initially, just the first half of spring term. Now, after multiple pandemic waves and a winter term that saw record-high case counts due to the spread of the omicron variant, Dartmouth and Hanover have finalized plans to remove the last major COVID-19 restrictions still in place. 

The College also will stop requiring asymptomatic weekly testing after April 10, Kotz and Mills wrote, just after the second week of spring term. Though students, including those remaining in the Upper Valley during spring break, will still be required to take an in-person PCR test and a rapid antigen test within 24 hours after arrival in the spring — and before attending their first class — all asymptomatic testing will be optional after April 10. 

Kotz said in an interview that professors will not be able to require masks in classrooms, but are able to ask their students to wear masks. He emphasized that masks are “welcome” on campus, and that he hopes people will respect others’ preferences and choices. 

“In the spring, we will not have — with those very limited exceptions [such as the COVID-19 testing center, at the College Health Service and on public transportation] — rules that require masks in indoor spaces, and we won’t allow others to require masks in indoor spaces,” Kotz said. “That doesn’t mean that people can’t ask politely, as a consideration — maybe, ‘I have young children at home, or an older relative, or somebody who’s immunocompromised, and I’d really appreciate everyone, if you don’t mind, please wear your masks during this meeting or during class.’”

Kotz also said that due to the lifting of the indoor mask mandate, the first floor of Berry Library — closed this winter due to low masking compliance — will be open for the spring term. Cafe@Baker — which was supposed to open on Feb. 21, but also saw a delay due to the continued indoor mask mandate — will likely open in the second week of term after Dartmouth Dining Services finishes installing equipment and hiring staff, he added. 

The changes come in response to “the declining incidence of COVID-19 on our campus; a very high level of compliance with COVID-19 vaccination requirements; shifting federal, state, and local guidance; and thoughtful discussions with scientific advisors and many other groups across campus,” Kotz and Mills wrote. 

As of Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommend universal indoor masking in areas scored as having a “high” COVID-19 Community Level, a measure based on hospital admissions, open hospital beds and new cases. Grafton County, along with the rest of New Hampshire, is currently rated “low,” though all counties in Vermont are rated “medium” or “high.”

School Administrative Unit 70 — the school district that covers four schools in Hanover and Norwich — will lift its indoor mask mandate on March 14, Griffin said, under pressure from the state government. Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, announced on Feb. 23 that schools were no longer allowed to mandate masks, and according to Griffin, the New Hampshire Department of Education is “really pressuring” SAU-70 to lift its own mandate no later than Monday. 

Griffin said that the College, town and SAU-70 have been working together closely on their plans to lift restrictions.

“We’re concerned with each other, because those three institutions really touch almost everybody that would be impacted by this decision,” she said. 

The town will “pause” its mask mandate, not repeal it entirely, which will allow it to more easily restore it if pandemic conditions change again, Griffin said. Hanover originally instituted its mask mandate on Aug. 10, 2020, suspended it on June 14, 2021, then reinstated the indoor mask mandate on Aug. 4, 2021 following the emergence of the delta variant. 

Griffin added that the Selectboard will not have to meet in the coming week to formally suspend the ordinance; rather, its members have given her the power to do so herself. 

“They’ve authorized me to just make the announcement,” she said. “They recognized that we need to be able to pivot quickly, so they’ve essentially been conferring with me — I’ve shared with them what we’ve been talking about with the town, with the College and the school district — and they’ve basically said ‘Julia, make the announcement. You’ve got our support to pause this ordinance in keeping with the timeline that the College wants.’”

Kotz said that the decision to wait until March 16, after the exam period is over, was intentional — otherwise, more students may have gotten sick during exams or felt pressure to attend in-person exams despite not feeling comfortable with their unmasked classmates around them. 

For students on campus, isolation requirements will remain the same, and students are expected to mask for 10 days after a positive COVID-19 test — even if they test out on days 5 or 7 — as well as any time they have symptoms. Masks will also continue to be required in the COVID-19 testing center, at the College Health Service and on public transportation. 

Guests to campus will also no longer have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test starting March 16, Kotz and Mills wrote. The Hopkins Center for the Arts will continue to require both masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test due to a contract with the Broadway League. 

Griffin cited the region’s high vaccination rate as another reason why the town and College feel comfortable lifting the mask mandate. The vaccination rate among students, faculty and staff is 98.1%, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard, and 92.9% have also received their booster shot that was required by the College in December. The vaccination rates in Hanover and Lebanon are 72.1% and 78.3%, respectively, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

Kotz said that it is likely Dartmouth will require members of the Class of 2026 to be fully vaccinated prior to arriving on campus, but emphasized that the administration had not yet discussed the matter. 

He also cited the lack of severe disease in the Dartmouth community as a promising sign for the lifting of masking and testing rules, noting that, though the College is not always informed of every single employee’s health status, he was not “aware of” any student or employee who has experienced “severe disease or hospitalization.”  

“The fact that we’ve had no hospitalizations, no severe cases, is one of the many indicators that made us think that this seems like it’s feasible,” Kotz said of the loosening restrictions. “Even in the winter, when we had a lot of cases around campus, we weren’t seeing any instance of real concern.”

Other Ivy League schools have also made changes to their COVID-19 regulations for the spring. Brown University, Columbia University, Harvard University and Princeton University have announced that their indoor mask mandates will lift on March 14, though Brown will still allow professors to require masks in class. Cornell University will lift its mandate except for in classrooms and other “teaching spaces” on March 14, Yale University will lift its mandate except for in classrooms on March 21. The University of Pennsylvania has not made an announcement as of press time.

Correction appended (6:21 p.m. March 11, 2022): This article has been updated with information about Cornell University’s decision today to lift its mask mandate. 

Kyle Mullins

Kyle ('22) is the former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth, Inc. and an opinion writer for The Dartmouth from St. Petersburg, Florida. He is studying history, economics and public policy at the College. In his free time, he also enjoys climbing, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a good book. 

As former editor-in-chief, Kyle's views do not represent those of The Dartmouth.