By the time University announced its decision on August 6 to conduct the fall semester fully online, many students had already signed their leases and made plans to return to campus. While some scrambled to sublet their apartments and cancel their travel arrangements, others decided to return to Baltimore despite the University urging students to stay home.
The decision to cancel all in-person activities for the fall semester came over a month after the University’s initial hybrid plan. As explained in an email on June 30, the University intended to have some classes in person, with others fully online. Traditional on-campus housing would be guaranteed for freshmen, while sophomores could choose to live in University-run hotels or secure their own housing. Juniors and seniors, who traditionally live off-campus, would continue to do so.
The University explained that no student had to return to Baltimore in order to complete their academic studies. But many students chose to return regardless.
Senior Yuzuka Karube moved back into her off-campus apartment in May, noting that it was unrealistic for her to stay home.
“My parents recently moved to a smaller house, and, therefore, I have no bedroom anymore,” she said. “It was either live on my couch for a year or live in Baltimore.”
Other students decided to return after hearing the University’s hybrid reopening plan.
Sophomore Emi Ochoa signed a lease to live in a Charles Village row house in mid-July, despite being offered University housing under the hybrid plan.
“When they announced that they would be doing the hybrid, I didn’t want to live in the dorms,” she said. “They would put us in hotels three miles away. It was kind of ridiculous.”
After the University cancelled the hybrid plan, Ochoa and her roommates chose to live in Baltimore anyway. She noted that she filled out the Resource Support form, but she has not yet heard back from Financial Aid despite submitting the form weeks ago.
“When they said they would be providing us with extra aid for our leases, I was really happy and grateful. But I have not seen that to be true, at all,” Ochoa said.
The University is allowing a small number of students with demonstrated need to live in on-campus housing. Students who qualify are being housed in Homewood Apartments.
Freshman Sarah Annis is moving into Homewood Apartments on Saturday, August 29. Annis stated that she decided to stay in University housing after facing internet connectivity issues while completing her high school senior spring at home. She knows of about 50 other freshmen who will be on-campus.
“Everyone, as far as we know, is in an apartment by themselves,” she said. “They aren’t using any triples or quads.”
Preventing large gatherings
Per the University’s fall plans, all in-person academic and co-curricular events on and off-campus are prohibited. Students are not allowed to have informal gatherings of more than 10 people.
In an email to the student body on August 20, the University announced additions to the student conduct code. Violations of coronavirus (COVID-19) preventative measures are classified into three categories, and the Student Conduct Office will determine the appropriate disciplinary action, which could be as severe as expulsion from the University.
Karube, who has been in Baltimore for several months, noted that she will be taking additional precautions as students return from around the world for the beginning of the semester.
“For the first month of school, my roommate and I are going to completely self-isolate,” she said. “Before we had seen a few people, but now we’re just gonna not see anyone at all, just to be safe.”
Ochoa is also taking extra steps to avoid the virus. Since several of her roommates recently flew in from California, everyone in her house is wearing masks in common areas.
“We really care about being as safe as possible,” she said. “Although I know that a lot of people are not doing that.”
Annis reported that students living in University housing are not allowed to visit the rooms of other students in the dorm. Students who return home for Thanksgiving can not return after the break and should stay in Baltimore while living on-campus.
“It was implied that if we left, there would be penalties, but it wasn’t completely clear,” she said.
Sophomore Kristen Liu, who has moved into an off-campus apartment for the fall, stressed the need for all students to take precautions.
“In apartment buildings like mine there are so many young people in one place, and there’s no guarantee that a friend or classmate hasn’t been out to big gatherings or parties,“ Liu wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I think Hopkins’ serious approach to dealing with non-compliance is completely appropriate. Being so close to campus, I feel safer because of it.”
Several universities whose students have returned to campus, such as the University of Southern California and North Carolina State University, have seen COVID-19 outbreaks linked to fraternity and sorority houses.
Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) Nick Wright stated that his office has connected with student leaders and chapter advisors throughout the summer to ensure community responsibility and the safety of students returning to campus.
“If a chapter(s), or their members, choose to put the JHU or greater Baltimore community at risk, those chapter(s) are at risk of losing their University recognition,” Wright wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “OFSL has full faith that the fraternity and sorority community will do their part in reducing the spread of COVID-19.”
Junior Alex Skirvin, a pledge of Phi Delta Theta (Phi Delt) at Hopkins, stated that all fraternity events have been cancelled for the fall.
“Phi Delt is moving all of our programming and operations to a virtual platform with the help of [Student Leadership and Involvement] to try and minimize large gatherings,“ he wrote. “Further, all social events have been cancelled, including brotherhood events (which FSL defines as a gathering of 5 or more brothers).”
Junior Max Muss, President of the Hopkins chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity, confirmed that FSL has made it clear that Greek organizations must strictly conform to University guidelines and even offered to help brainstorm virtual events for Greek organizations.
“Our plan is to have one event a week, either hybrid or smaller, in-person, outdoor events,” Muss said. “I wouldn’t want to risk getting the virus or getting in trouble with school.”
Testing and contact tracing
Students who were approved to reside in campus housing will be tested on arrival and regularly throughout the semester. For students living off-campus, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Call Center (JHCCC) will determine whether a student needs to be tested for COVID-19 and help schedule tests.
JHCCC will be conducting contact investigations and notifying potential contacts following a positive test.
All students will also be provided wellness kits that include hand sanitizer, two masks and a thermometer. They will also be required to receive the flu vaccination. Additionally, the University is launching a dashboard that tracks COVID-19 testing data for Hopkins affiliates.
Before being allowed on campus grounds, individuals must download the Prodensity app and answer several health questions.
Student Government Association President Sam Mollin expressed concern over the fact that the University will not regularly test students living in off-campus housing.
“I'm glad that students living on-campus will be tested when they arrive and have access to regular tests... [but] I think we need and will continue to push for having on-demand tests for off-campus students as well,” he wrote.
Mollin added that he wishes to see more robust contact tracing efforts, noting that the Prodensity app does not have a contact tracing feature.
“Contact tracing was not included [in the Prodensity app] partly because of privacy concerns, which I think are valid, but I also think it would be a good idea to either use another optional app or provide optional location-based contact tracing capability in Prodensity.”
Karube echoed Mollin’s concerns, pointing to testing efforts at other universities.
“I think Hopkins can do a little better in terms of safety, particularly with testing,“ she said. “I know one of my friends [at another school] has testing twice a week. I don’t think Hopkins is offering that, at least not for off-campus people.”
She stressed that the University’s urgings have not stopped students from returning to Baltimore.
“People are off-campus,“ Karube said. “I’m here.”