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Dartmouth College watching other campuses’ in-person results

  • The Baker-Berry Library stands across The Green at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/19/2020 9:45:44 PM
Modified: 8/20/2020 9:23:40 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College officials say they are monitoring COVID-19 case numbers at several peer institutions before deciding whether to continue with their plans to bring about 2,300 students back to campus next month.

The school on Wednesday delayed distributing student housing assignments until next week. The information was set to be released in the next day or two. Provost Joseph Helble announced the news during a virtual “Community Conversations” meeting with staff, students and others on Wednesday.

Helble said the extra time will allow the college to monitor the COVID-19 infection rates at other colleges and universities that have already opened and glean lessons that might be applied at Dartmouth.

“In at least one case so far, we have seen infection levels rise, and this is data that we need to and will track on that and other campuses before we confirm our plan to bring undergraduate students back to Hanover this fall,” Helble said in opening remarks of the meeting.

The pause comes as several colleges around the country have made headlines for detecting clusters of the virus, often linked to student housing, bars and parties.

Helble cautioned that many of those schools faced different circumstances in their respective communities, including looser state and local safety rules, and greater rates of transmission, compared to Hanover.

But some of the schools Dartmouth says it’s watching — including other Ivy League institutions, as well as Duke University in Durham, N.C.; Notre Dame University in Indiana; and Amherst College in Massachusetts — have already faced setbacks.

Around the same time of Helble’s online forum, Notre Dame announced it was temporarily moving all classes online for at least two weeks after reporting 222 positive COVID-19 cases in the first two weeks of the fall semester, representing a 17.2% positivity rate.

And Duke on Tuesday announced it’s investigating seven cases of “flagrant misconduct and persistent non-compliance” of COVID-19 safety rules, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Other colleges have recently reversed their reopening plans as well, with many opting to go online only as cases increase around the country. Brown University announced last week that it plans to stagger its reopening, allowing some students to return in late August, and keeping classes online until early October. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Pennsylvania reversed their initial decisions to hold in-person classes, and announced that they’re moving classes online following an increase in COVID-19 cases.

In an email after the forum, Vice President of Communications Justin Anderson said that “what happens at any individual institution will not determine what Dartmouth does.

“It’s looking at the experiences of our peers in the aggregate as well as where we might draw applicable lessons given our own circumstances,” Anderson said.

During the forum, Helble suggested that other schools seeing a spike in cases does not necessarily mean Dartmouth would face the same fate by reopening.

“These are certainly informative for us but the specific local or regional circumstances are very different,” Helble said.

He said other institutions that have already brought students back to campus and, like Dartmouth, have pre-arrival or on-arrival testing, have seen around 0.28% of students test positive for COVID-19.

If the same rate applies to Dartmouth, which is planning to have about 2,300 studnets — half of its student body — on campus this fall, that would mean up to six students may test positive, he said.

Additionally, the college has tested 750 graduate and professional students on campus over the summer and found no positive cases, he said.

“These numbers help make the point that headlines recently that have raised anxiety about large numbers of already infected students potentially returning to campuses these coming weeks are simply not borne out by the data on other campuses,” Helble said.

He also outlined Dartmouth’s testing plan, announced earlier this summer, which begins with Dartmouth mailing a COVID-19 test kit to every domestic student before they arrive to campus. If they test positive, students will have to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Students will be tested three different times within the first week of arriving back to campus. Throughout the term, the school will hold additional “surveillance testing” that includes testing a random sample of students each week, Helble said.

During Helble’s forum, some viewers raised concerns about buying plane tickets or making travel plans last minute, but Helble said the school is asking for “about five more days of time.”

“We recognize that this is a challenge for everybody but we think that it’s worth waiting so we can take a little extra time and really get this decision right,” Anderson added.

Anna Merriman can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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