COVID-19: Dartmouth cases top 700; officials hope omicron outbreak has peaked

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/15/2022 6:56:11 AM
Modified: 1/15/2022 6:55:07 AM

HANOVER — The number of COVID-19 cases at Dartmouth College continues to grow, and it’s unclear whether they’ve peaked.

Over the past week, nearly 1,000 people at the college have tested positive for the virus. By Friday, more than 750 people had active infections.

The bulk of the infections have been in the college’s undergraduate population of about 4,200, with lower numbers of infections in graduate students and employees.

The college, in part citing mental health concerns, moved ahead this month as planned with a largely in-person winter term in spite of the omicron variant driving a spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths throughout the country, including in New Hampshire.

Tuck School of Business professor Lindsey Leininger said she sees hopeful signs in wastewater data that the region and country may have hit the peak of this omicron wave of infections. “Fingers crossed,” she said.

Still, hospitalizations lag behind spikes in cases, so for now “we need continued vigilance about preserving scarce hospital resources,” she said.

On Friday, New Hampshire announced 28 deaths of people with COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,079 since the pandemic began. There were 433 people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections in the state on Friday, and another 135 remain hospitalized even after the initial infection has run its course, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

Meanwhile, several Upper Valley businesses and schools have had to temporarily close as workers have become infected amid the ongoing surge.

Leininger, a public health scientist with expertise in health policy, said she urges people to “temporarily turn down your personal infection risk-dial as much as possible.” But she added that she doesn’t think it’s possible or desirable to aim for zero risk of infection at this point.

“The resulting trade-offs — further compromising student mental health, for example — have excruciating unintended consequences,” she said.

While in-person academic work is a priority for the college, “various sections of classes have moved in and out of remote instruction over the past two weeks,” Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said. Faculty can make short-term adjustments without formal approval. There are 11 classes being taught remotely for the entire term, she said.

Lawrence declined to say when the college expects to reach peak infection.

“We are going to have to leave the estimates regarding the peak number of cases to the epidemiologists,” she said.

Dartmouth continues to require that people wear masks indoors, but it reopened on-campus dining this week after starting the term earlier this month with dining restricted to grab-and-go only. The college also will revisit its ban on indoor social gatherings, “as circumstances change,” Lawrence said.

The college’s restrictions rely “on community self-policing,” Lawrence said. “As in any community, there will be some who flout the rules, but these precautions have been largely successful.”

Nearly 98% of Dartmouth’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, as the college requires. The college also is requiring booster shots and held vaccine clinics on campus this week.

Elsewhere in the Upper Valley, Colby-Sawyer College in New London, where spring semester begins on Tuesday, is asking that students take COVID-19 tests prior to their arrival on campus, according to a Thursday message to students from the college’s marketing and communications department. If they test positive, they’re asked to remain at home.

If Colby-Sawyer students test positive during the semester, they will be required to return home, unless they have been approved for “extenuating travel concerns,” Thursday’s message said.

Earlier this month, Colby-Sawyer also announced that masks will be required on campus. Students and employees also are all required to get booster shots by mid-February. All students on campus are required to be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Beginning on Monday, Colby-Sawyer’s dining hall will be open for takeout only pending the results of Wednesday’s testing. All on-campus indoor athletic events are closed to spectators through at least Jan. 31.

Woodstock Rec Center, Co-op’s Hanover Service Center temporarily closed

WOODSTOCK — The Woodstock Recreation Center is closed through Monday, due to a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the community, according to a Listserv post.

Those infected include some of the center’s employees. The closure allows time for employees to get tested and the facility to be cleaned, the post said.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, the Co-op Food Store’s Hanover Service Center on South Park Street is temporarily closed, according to the Co-op’s website. Gas pumps are still open for automated sales from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Fixed testing sites closed Saturday due to weather

CLAREMONT — Four state-run COVID-19 testing fixed sites in New Hampshire will be closed on Saturday due to the predicted extreme cold, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The closed sites include one at River Valley Community College in Claremont, as well as those in Manchester, Nashua and Newington. The sites are expected to reopen Sunday.

Indoor PCR testing locations on the New Hampshire side of the Upper Valley include Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont and ClearChoiceMD in Lebanon. More information is available online at covid19.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt481/files/inline-documents/sonh/covid-testing-sites.pdf.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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