Hanover stores and restaurants cut back as Dartmouth’s COVID-19 cases rise

  • A painting of a student studying indoors is on display in the closed Hopkins Center entryway at Dartmouth College in Hanover. According to the college’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are 122 active cases of the illness among students. valley news — Geoff Hansen

  • A sign on the door at Rauner Library at Dartmouth College outlines the steps for temperature checks and other COVID-19-related restrictions in place at the building. College officials said an announcement of a significant increase in positive cases will result in more stringent pandemic protocols being reinstated on campus.

  • Due to the rise in active COVID-19 cases at Dartmouth College and the subsequent restrictions, Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover announced on Monday that it is offering curbside pickup and closing its dining room to protect its employees. Geoff Hansen photos / Valley News

Valley News
Published: 3/3/2021 8:41:09 AM

Downtown merchants cut back on browsing for books and some closed temporarily to in-house diners on Monday amid concerns about a large outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Dartmouth College.

Meanwhile, college officials extended new safety protocols until Friday, including keeping all classes remote and closing indoor gathering spaces, and explicitly tied the growing number of active cases to an apparent failure by students in following safety protocols.

“Consistent with what other campuses have seen, trends continue to suggest that noncompliant social interactions — particularly those where people are not wearing masks or observing adequate physical distancing — are the primary cause of this increase in virus transmission,” Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble said in an email to the college community early Monday evening.

“Each of us must rise to the occasion if we are to help break the transmission cycle that is affecting the experience of everyone on our campus,” he said, warning those students who fail to follow health and safety guidelines could be kicked off campus for the rest of the academic year.

The Dartmouth dashboard ticked up to 124 cases, including two faculty and staff. A total of 267 people, mostly students, were either in quarantine or isolation.

Allie Levy, the owner of Still North Books and Bar, last week decided to temporarily close her doors to all customers and remain open for curbside pickup only to prevent the coronavirus from spreading into the Hanover community beyond campus.

“We had to take a step back,” she said of her bookstore, which doubled as a cafe before the COVID-19 pandemic. Levy said the cafe hasn’t served food or drinks for months because of safety concerns. For now, the outbreak seems confined to the school, but Levy said, “I don’t want to be the place where it spreads.”

Like Levy, other business owners took on new safety precautions following the news. Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases at Dartmouth, said it was temporarily closing indoor dining, Lou’s owner Jarett Berke said via email.

Berke, who stressed no Lou’s employee has tested positive, said he was nonetheless closing sit-down indoor dining as a precautionary measure to protect staff. “I’m hoping that we are back open before the end of the week,” Berke said, noting that he is “looking for two things before re-opening: local cases to begin to decline, and students observing the quarantine requirements/suggestions that Dartmouth published.”

Berke’s words touched on a concern other business owners and Dartmouth College employees have raised about compliance by students.

Eric Isaacs, the manager at Molly’s Restaurant and Bar in Hanover, said the restaurant has been following safety protocols since it reopened last summer, but has had some issues with students. Because students are prohibited from congregating in large groups on campus, they have tried to gather in large parties at the restaurant for drinks and food, despite Molly’s strict six-person maximum on parties, Isaacs said.

“People want to be together ... they’re trying to push the envelope,” he said, adding that some of the groups have been as large as 10 or even 14 students trying to dine together. Isaacs said he has to remind his staff daily to be vigilant about the six-person maximum rule but that “it’s been hard to monitor.”

Some students also say they saw people ignoring safety protocols prior to the recent outbreak. Sophomore Ash Mitcham, who spoke outside while grabbing food and a package, which is allowed under Dartmouth’s new guidelines, pointed to large parties students have hosted recently.

“It’s the reason people are getting COVID,” she said, but added that many students are critical of the parties. “There’s a kind of animosity to people who are blatantly not following the rules.”

Her roommate and fellow sophomore Jenna Myers agreed, saying that the spikes in cases likely started with parties and “permeated out.” After last week’s news, though, the attitude among students has changed, she said.

“After the outbreak, people kind of sobered up to the reality,” Myers said, likening the campus to a “ghost town.”

Sophomore Marisa Natarajan has noticed the same, saying that the “bubble” that Dartmouth and its students have tried to create to protect the community from COVID-19 has popped.

“Since the outbreaks happened, people have stuck to the rules,” she said Monday, speaking outside near the Dartmouth Green.

Other Twin State schools that have had recent outbreaks have seen numbers go down in recent days. Plymouth State is now reporting 97 cases as of Monday afternoon; UNH had 129 as of Sunday; and UVM had 31 as of Sunday.

News staff writer John Lippman contributed to this report. Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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