Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 14, 2024

Students sent home: University suspends in-person classes as coronavirus spreads nationwide

By RUDY MALCOM | March 12, 2020

EDA INCEKARA/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR President Daniels announced in an email to the student body that as of March 11, Hopkins is canceling in-person classes until at least April 12.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, University President Ronald J. Daniels announced in an email to the student body on March 10 that as of March 11, Hopkins is canceling in-person classes through at least April 12. Following spring break, the University will transition to remote instruction for all undergraduate courses. 

“At this time, we are aware that we have members of our community who are in the process of being tested for COVID-19, including several students who may have had exposure. With this in mind, as well as advice from public health experts regarding community transmission, limited availability of testing, and the need to shift from containment to mitigation strategies, we have decided to adopt the following immediate changes to our policies and academic programming,” Daniels wrote.

In a later email, Dean of the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences (KSAS) Beverly Wendland clarified that all exams are suspended March 11 through March 13. 

Executive Director of Student Engagement Laura Stott stated in an email to members of Hopkins Groups on March 11 that all University-sponsored and -organized student events and travel are suspended. In addition, all student organization meetings, events and programs — including parties and rehearsals — are suspended until further notice. 

On March 11, Senior Dining Manager Ian Magowan wrote in an email to students enrolled in meal plans that Hopkins Dining will continue to serve food in all locations as scheduled. However, because the University is strongly discouraging gatherings of over 25 people, Dining will only provide to-go meals and seating will be closed.

Daniels encouraged students who live in University housing not to return to campus immediately after spring break. Students residing in University housing between spring break and April 12 must register with Student Affairs by March 13. In addition, these students are only permitted to access their own residence halls; guests are not allowed.

Freshman Amara Gammon, a first-generation, limited-income (FLI) student, responded to the update in an email to The News-Letter.

“My initial reaction was excitement for an extended spring break, but I’m starting to realize that this means the virus is a lot more dangerous than we initially thought. It also poses another problem for those who have travel plans already,” she wrote. “While I won’t be affected so badly since I live near JHU, I know a lot of other FLI students might be stuck here or stuck at home. It might be harder for them to go home, especially on such short notice.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, junior Tuna Çoluk, who is from Turkey, similarly criticized how the University communicated this update.

“Transparency regarding this issue was essential for the international student community because international flights are limited and expensive. These tickets are usually purchased months before travel,” she said. “Some of us may also not be able to go back home because of the increased risk of getting the virus during international travel.”

Freshman Magdalena Oller Pereda, who is from Spain and currently lives in Switzerland, echoed Çoluk’s sentiments in an interview with The News-Letter on March 10.

“I hope that the schedule for online classes is flexible because of the time difference. Otherwise I will have to do them at night, which would be very inconvenient,” she said.

However, on March 11, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel between the U.S. and Europe for 30 days, beginning March 13 at midnight. The ban will not include travel to and from the United Kingdom.

According to Daniels, the financial aid office will soon reach out to students who receive financial aid to ensure that they can afford to leave campus and can access remote learning. Student Disability Services sent an email on March 11 to students registered for accommodations noting that the office is working with administrators to ensure that online courses are inclusive and accessible.

On March 11, the Office of International Services (OIS) informed students in F-1 status via email that remote instruction will not impact their visa status, which typically includes restrictions on the number of online courses. OIS remains open at this time to answer questions.

Professors were trained on March 10 how to instruct classes via Zoom, an online conference call platform.

Junior Sam Schatmeyer expressed concerns about faculty members’ preparedness.

“Are professors ready for Zoom? Do they know how to work that?” he said. “I am curious as to how coursework is going to continue after spring break.”

The Center for Educational Resources, the instructional support center for KSAS and the Whiting School of Engineering, will offer faculty members trainings on Zoom and other online tools, such as Blackboard, OneDrive and Panopto, between March 12 and March 20.

Freshman Isabella Rocco questioned the potential effectiveness of remote learning.

“I am hoping that online classes go well, but I'm worried that... it’ll be difficult for people to get out of their class what they’re paying for in tuition. But at this point, it’s necessary,” she said. “I’m worried that over a longer period of time... the model won’t work well. But I do think people will adapt.” 

Given that several peer institutions had already canceled classes, Rocco wished that the University had updated students sooner.

“Minutes before the announcement, my professor thought that classes for tomorrow and the midterm would be on. It’s a little bit troubling that the faculty were unaware of what was happening,” she said. “It seems like this was an inevitable decision, but they were just delaying making it, at the inconvenience of students.... It was long overdue. It’s good that JHU is finally following the lead of other institutions.”

In his email, Daniels emphasized that the best possible data has shaped the University’s approach to the epidemic, as well as a commitment to the health of individuals in the Hopkins community who are most vulnerable. Currently, there are nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland and five in Washington, D.C. The World Health Organization designated the outbreak as a pandemic on March 11.

Sophomore Rachel Cohen is from New Rochelle, just north of New York City, where a one-mile containment zone was ordered on March 10 around the Jewish synagogue Young Israel, the epicenter of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak. There are currently over 200 cases in New Rochelle.

All large gathering places within the radius, including several public schools, will be closed for two weeks starting March 25. Residents who live within the area can leave their homes unless they are quarantined. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Cohen explained that her father and brother were required to self-quarantine because they were at Young Synagogue the same time as someone later hospitalized for COVID-19. 

“My family’s quarantine ends on Saturday. Thankfully, they haven’t had any symptoms, so I’m not nervous at all to go home,” she wrote. “When my mom called to tell me that a family friend of ours was sick, I was in shock. Of course I had been hearing about the coronavirus, but it seemed surreal that someone I knew could get it.”

Cohen has been impressed with how her community has been able to come together.

“Everyone is supporting each other. Small acts of kindness — like Girl Scouts hanging purple ribbons all over town that say ‘New Ro Strong’ and food being delivered to the families in quarantine — make all the difference,” she wrote.

In his email, Daniels stressed his support for the Hopkins community, promising to keep students apprised of further developments.

“As we face the challenges posed by a fluid and rapidly evolving epidemic together, I remain profoundly grateful to each of you – our students, our clinical care providers, our faculty and graduate teaching colleagues, our staff across our campuses – who have and will continue to work tirelessly to adapt to these new circumstances in the furtherance of our core academic mission,” he wrote.

Sophomore Julia Colen hopes that, in the future, the University will be more transparent about developments related to COVID-19.

“The school could have handled all of this better. All day today, people knew something was going to happen. We knew there was going to be an email, so all day people were anxious,” she said. “As this moves forward, I hope they’re more communicative.

EDA INCEKARA/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Amid these changes, students abroad felt supported by the administration.

How has COVID-19 affected students who were studying abroad? 

On March 4, the University announced that it was assessing the operations of School of Advanced International Studies campuses in China, along with the placement of study abroad students worldwide. 

The Hub reported that seven undergraduates studying abroad in Italy had returned or were returning soon to the U.S. The decision to suspend these programs came after Italy was designated as level three by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. State Department on Friday. This indicates that the public should avoid non-essential travel to Italy, where more than 12,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. 

When travel warnings reach this level, the University requires the suspension of all study abroad programs in that country.

Junior Siena DeMatteo, who was studying in Bologna, told The News-Letter last week that she awoke on February 28 to the news that her program was suspended. Her program was run by Brown University and approved by Hopkins.

For DeMatteo, it has been easy to communicate with the Academic Advising.

“I haven’t had any issues in terms of getting these classes to transfer over at Hopkins, and I’m definitely grateful for that because there have been enough difficult steps in the process,” she said. “Luckily it’s been a pretty smooth transition.”

She plans to take online classes delivered in Eastern Standard Time.

“It will be feasible in the end to receive credits this semester... But there are a lots of caveats to that. Our options are far more limited and do not coincide with the classes I had started taking in Bologna. I will essentially be starting new courses next week,” she said. “That’s the plan as of now, but nothing’s been set in stone, so that could change.”

She was able to get a prorated refund for her housing. Currently in Baltimore, DeMatteo does not intend to have a permanent residence these next three months.

“I could live in Baltimore if I wanted to, and I’m sure the University would help me with that, but I don’t feel like I need to be in one place,” she said. “Since I had originally planned for this semester to travel and spend time with people, I think I can still do that at the domestic level.”

On the other hand, Junior Cindy Xiong, who was studying in Milan, chose to transfer to Madrid, Spain, where she began taking online classes when Italy reached level two.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m a real student because I don’t go to school. It’s definitely different from being a student at Hopkins,” she said. “But Hopkins did pay for my apartment in Madrid, so that was nice of them. They did a great job with that. I definitely can’t complain there.”

Junior Hunter Hopkins, who was also studying in Milan, declined the opportunity to move to Madrid. Although the University offered her an opening in Nine East 33rd, she chose to return home to Indiana to take online classes.

“I’m definitely disappointed. I planned an entire semester abroad and was only about a fourth of the way into it,” she said. “I was having a lot of fun doing weekend trips and exploring other parts of Europe. I was not ready to come home at all.”

Hopkins added that the Office of Study Abroad has been supportive.

Xiong echoed Hopkins’ sentiments.

“They did a great job in helping me stay abroad because they knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “They acted really quickly, and I’m so thankful for that.”

DeMatteo also commended the Office of Study Abroad.

“Day by day, we have a lot more information, but when these classes… start next Monday, I’m sure there will be a few more hiccups along the way, a few more things to figure out,” she said. “But luckily everyone that I’ve worked with so far has been pretty helpful, so I’m not too nervous.”

Jake Lefkovitz and Katy Wilner contributed reporting to this article.

EDA INCEKARA/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Members of the Hopkins community called on the University to be more transparent about the impact of COVID-19.

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