Dartmouth students’ upcoming return worries some Hanover residents, officials

  • Rena Mosteirin, who purchased Left Bank Books in July, works in the Hanover used book shop while her husband, James “Jed” Dobson, right, works on some technical support for the store, Friday, July 31, 2020. Mosteirin, who is a lecturer for Dartmouth College’s MALS program, said she will close the store during the first two weeks students return to the Dartmouth campus to try to prevent any possible transmission of COVID-19. “A lot of the people that shop here are older,” she said. “I really want to protect them.” Dobson is the director of Dartmouth College’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pankhuree Dube, who recently completed her post doctoral studies in environmental history at Dartmouth College, crosses the intersection of Main and Wheelock streets while preparing to depart Hanover, N.H., for an assistant professorship at Middle Tennessee State University, Friday, July 31, 2020. “Dartmouth students tend to be pretty responsible,” said Dube, who will not be on campus when students return. “I hope the community can sort of come together and everybody can just be kind to each other right now,” she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2020 9:54:45 PM
Modified: 7/31/2020 9:54:41 PM

HANOVER — Town officials and Hanover-area residents are raising concerns about the planned return of about 2,200 Dartmouth College students to campus next month given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing summer partying and a lack of social distancing exhibited by students who opted to stay in Hanover over the summer, they say such practices spell disaster if continued into the fall.

“It seems like right now, there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety out in the community about students coming back,” Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said on Thursday. “My email box is blowing up with emails and communications from folks saying, ‘Can’t we stop this?’ ”

There’s also concern that students — who left for homes across the world after Dartmouth moved to online learning in March — could bring the virus with them.

While the college has tried to alleviate those fears with new strict regulations once students return, they’ve been met with mixed reviews from those readying for in-person learning.

“I’m hopeful that it won’t be completely terrible,” said Katie Hoover, a rising junior who stayed in Hanover over the summer. “It’s definitely a bit daunting.”

Hoover is hoping to obtain on-campus housing this fall, largely because of the access to library resources and in-person classes she hopes will come with living in Dartmouth’s dorms. However, some of her classmates aren’t enthusiastic about that mandatory testing and isolation periods the college plans.

“To be honest, I’m more optimistic than my friends,” Hoover said while relaxing Thursday afternoon on the Dartmouth Green. “A lot of people tend to be negative and are like, ‘Oh my gosh, this 14-day quarantine is like a prison sentence.’ ”

Rules unveiled

Dartmouth on Monday unveiled its quarantine guidelines for students, which mandates that all students returning to on-campus housing complete a 14-day process. On arrival, students will undergo COVID-19 testing and then be sent to their rooms. They’ll remain there in isolation, allowed to leave only to use the bathroom, either for 48 hours or until test results come back.

If results are negative, students will be allowed to pick up meals from Dartmouth Dining Services three times a day, go for solo walks or participate in socially distanced activities organized by the college in groups of no more than nine. Students also will undergo a second round of coronavirus testing halfway through the quarantine, and anyone who tests positive will be moved to isolation housing and be put in contact with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Dartmouth also released a 14-day plan for students in off-campus housing that requires them to only leave their residence for curbside pickup of food, essential supplies or for solo walks and other outdoor exercises. Like those on-campus, the students will undergo testing and aren’t allowed to have any guests or congregate in large groups. The protocols could remain in place for returning students in the winter and spring terms, but may be modified as the pandemic evolves, the college said. Only about half of the student body will be on campus for any one term in the 2020-21 school year.

Some students,residents wary

For rising junior Ben McLean, it’s easier to stay home and continue with online classes.

The rules “make sense from a disease perspective,” McLean said in a phone interview from his home in North Carolina. “But from a student life and well-being perspective, I just don’t have any desire to go back under that system.” McLean said he also worries about incoming first-year students, saying the first few weeks of college traditionally allow them to get used to campus life and make new friends.

“It’s a really, really stressful time. You don’t know anybody and you’re away from your parents for the first time,” he said. “It could be hard for a lot of students who are freshmen.”

Residents have raised concerns that with more students will come more crowded parties, and that hundreds of young adults will be coming to Hanover from COVID-19 hot spots.

Dr. Carole Stashwick, a retired physician who worked at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, is among those who have called for Dartmouth to rethink its plans.

“I just think the presence of the medical center here brings a lot of people to the community who are older and also have medical problems,” said Stashwick, a cancer survivor who has avoided going out because of her high-risk status. “It just seems to me that we have to just pause and think about what we are doing.”

The chances of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk of requiring a hospital stay or being put on a ventilator to help breathe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency estimates that about 8 in 10 Americans killed by the virus are age 65 and older.

In New Hampshire, older people have fared worse, with about 95% of the 415 who have died from COVID-19 having been age 60 and over, according to data from New Hampshire DHHS. Meanwhile, 68% of Granite Staters hospitalized with the virus are age 60 and over.

Some community members have expressed concerns about parents also coming to Hanover for move-in day, but Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email on Friday that students are told not to bring any friends or family members with them during the move-in process. No one except the students approved to be in Hanover for fall will be allowed in residence halls, testing areas or in other campus facilities, she added.

Students also will be required to sign a “community expectations agreement” as part of the enrollment process that will outline health and safety rules while in Hanover and any other Upper Valley community where they reside or travel, Lawrence said.

Landlords, merchantstry to prepare

Still, the town has its own concerns about Dartmouth’s return plan and the possibility of students spreading the virus to full-time residents.

“The hard part for the town are the students living off-campus in part because many of the houses they rent or the apartments they rent are not particularly well-managed or heavily supervised by the property owners,” Griffin said. “Large parties happen either without the landlord’s knowledge or consent or the landlord looks the other way.”

To relieve those concerns, the town is exploring several temporary regulations that could prevent the virus’s spread. On Monday, the Selectboard will decide whether to institute a mask mandate that would require people entering public spaces to wear a face mask.

Officials also are looking at new rental housing regulations that could require landlords and tenants to provide more information to aid contact tracing efforts. That push could include a mandate of only one person being allowed to rent a bedroom, Griffin said.

The Selectboard might amend Hanover’s outdoor activities ordinance as well so that outdoor gatherings of 10 or more people require a permit, she said.

Such steps could be helpful, so long as the onus isn’t solely on landlords to enforce the regulations, said Jolin Kish, who owns several rental properties in Hanover.

“Give us responsibility but give us the power to do something,” Kish said. “All I currently have to work with is a noise ordinance.”

Strict rental laws prevent landlords from interfering in renters’ actions as long as they don’t violate the terms of a lease, she noted.

“I can call, email and go talk to them but ultimately, I have to call the police, too,” she said.

Kish called on Hanover’s new regulations to explicitly state what actions landlords can take. For instance, she wants to know what protocol the town proscribes for those who might see pingpong tables — a clear sign that beer pong is being played — at their rental properties.

Meanwhile, downtown merchants say they’re ready to see students return in due time. Many Hanover businesses advocated for the return of Dartmouth students this fall after seeing sales drop under New Hampshire’s stay-at-home order and phased reopening.

Rena Mosteirin, who purchased Left Bank Books last month, plans to close the store for two weeks next month while students are quarantining as a precaution.

“I want them to know that after their quarantine is over, they’re very welcome here,” she said. “But personally and professionally, I think quarantining the same two weeks that the students are being asked to quarantine makes sense. I don’t think you can be too careful with this kind of stuff.”

But Mosteirin, a 2007 Dartmouth graduate, also said the protocols may be hard for some college students to follow.

“If I was 19 years old and someone said you have to stay in your dorm for two weeks, I might struggle with that,” she said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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