The coronavirus (COVID-19) officially became a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11. Yet just last week, Hopkins was mostly operating as usual. Classes proceeded as planned, clubs held their meetings, sports teams practiced and performing arts groups planned their spring productions.
By Monday, however, the atmosphere on campus had shifted. More universities across the country announced that they were moving classes online and encouraging students to go home.
On Tuesday, several colleges in Maryland, including Towson, Loyola and the University of Maryland Baltimore County released similar plans.
Students at Hopkins waited all day to find out whether our University would take similar measures. The news came out slowly. In the afternoon, faculty members attended a meeting to learn how to use Zoom, a video conferencing app, in case the University decided to cancel in-person classes. At 6:30 pm, the University announced on Hub that they would cancel classes for the week and switch to remote classes until at least April 12. The announcement encouraged students to go home and not return to campus during that time.
An hour later, administrators sent an email to students, faculty and staff with similar information. Several additional emails were sent out the next day with clarifying information about classes, meals on campus and policies for student organizations.
In our lifetimes, a pandemic this severe is unprecedented. Less than two weeks ago, the number of cases of coronavirus in the U.S. was low, and there were no confirmed deaths. By March 8, there were over 500 confirmed cases in the U.S. alone, including four in Maryland and one in Washington, D.C. The disease spread quickly, and we commend Hopkins for acting with everyone’s safety in mind and for coming up with an emergency plan in just a few days.
Additionally, Hopkins has done a great job of tackling some of the problems that students will face as a result of the closure. Students studying abroad reported to The News-Letter that the University offered them refunds or relocated them from countries with high risk to locations where they can continue their studies. According to the schoolwide email we received on Tuesday evening, Financial Aid will reach out to students to ensure that they are able to return home and dining halls will remain open. Students that need to stay in campus housing are allowed to remain, and simply need to fill out a straightforward form.
However, we feel that Hopkins released information in a confusing, inconsistent manner. Tuesday afternoon was stressful for students. For much of the day, they relied on rumors. Students did not know if or when the University would release an announcement. They did not know whether the virus was a substantial threat on Homewood, whether they would be forced to relocate from campus or whether their semesters would be disrupted. Administrators could have helped mitigate this panic by sending out a preliminary email or text alert, explaining that they were in the process of making a decision.
When they were ready to announce official plans for the virus, administrators could have updated us through email, as opposed to updating us via Hub and the student portal. Instead, they sent an email about the school closedown an hour after Hopkins announced its decision. There was also no notice of class cancellations in Wednesday’s daily announcements.
Though we know it is for our safety, we are saddened by the fact that student life is undergoing such a dramatic and sudden suspension. Our Hopkins experience is more than just classes. It also consists of sports, club meetings and events with friends. Yet nearly every aspect of student activities is on pause. Athletic and club events will not take place as planned. Performances and lectures are canceled. Many of our friends will not be on campus for at least a month. Depending on the outcome of the pandemic, we wonder whether we will see them again for the rest of the semester. We may not have classes again, a Spring Fair, a homecoming or even a commencement.
Regardless of the development of this virus, The News-Letter will continue to be active following Spring Break. However, in light of yesterday’s announcement, we have decided that we will only be publishing our work online until classes resume in person.
We cannot risk the safety of our staff, many of whom will not even be on campus in the next few weeks. We are also aware of the impact that the termination of student events and the absence of students on campus will have on the scope of our coverage in the coming weeks.
We do not know when we will be able to resume printing. However, we will continue to fulfill our role of informing the Hopkins and Baltimore community. We will continue to be a platform for student voices. We will continue to hold the University accountable.
Given the nature of this pandemic, it is understandable that many of us are confused, frustrated and afraid. We must remember, however, that this should not be changing the way we treat other members of our community. We must treat one another with compassion and humanity. For months, we have been especially troubled by how the spread of COVID-19 has led to a rise in xenophobia toward Asians.
Students of Asian descent on college campuses all around the U.S. have faced incidents of racism and xenophobia, from sidelong looks from classmates to students leaving dining tables after Asian students sit down. In early February, UC Berkeley posted a graphic on their health and wellness Instagram assuring students that xenophobia was a normal reaction to the rising fears about COVID-19. Middle schoolers spread rumors that all of their Asian classmates have COVID-19. Chinatowns have experienced a decline in patronage. Whether it’s abroad or on our campus, anti-Asian sentiment has been spreading like a pandemic.
We must also remember that while there are many of us on campus who have not been directly impacted by the virus, there are others in our community who have been. Many of us will lose a critical source of income as businesses and offices close. Many of us have loved ones in the countries most severely impacted by the virus, including China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. Many of us are not able to return home. And, while the illness poses less of a threat to college-age students, that does not mean that we are not at risk.
In the coming weeks, we must support one another and stand up for one another. We must prioritize our health and we urge you to stay safe. But remember, too, that we cannot compromise our humanity.