Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 8, 2021

University leaders hold town hall on spring return to campus

By LEELA GEBO | January 14, 2021

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Administrators detailed the logistics of on-campus activities this spring.

University leaders held a town hall to discuss plans for the spring semester on Sunday, Jan. 10. Associate Vice Provost for Education Janet Schreck facilitated the explanation of the finalized plan.

The plan, which was released on Friday, Jan. 8, confirmed that the University will hold hybrid classes throughout the spring semester and offer mandatory twice-a-week COVID-19 testing to students in Baltimore living both on and off campus. 

As in the fall, students are not required to return to Baltimore if they wish to stay home. Additionally, students will still have the opportunity to choose between a letter grade or a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (S/U) grading system for each class. 

Student Government Association Executive President Sam Mollin, who was also a member of the University’s student advisory committee for reopening campus, supported the University’s decision in an interview with The News-Letter

“The choice I have as a student on that committee is basically: ‘Do I trust the committee of public health experts that Johns Hopkins has to determine whether it’s safe to reopen?’ And I do,” he said. “We have some of the best public health experts in the country, and if they say it’s safe to reopen, then I think it is.”

COVID-19 testing 

Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Stephen Gange explained the precautions the University has taken to be able to open in the spring, despite COVID-19 rates being higher now than when the University deemed it necessary to close campus in the fall. 

“We believe all of the work that we put in in preparation for the fall, coupled with improved capabilities for the spring, are the best measures available for bringing students back in a couple weeks,” he said.

These improved capabilities including using saliva samples for COVID-19 testing, building a lab staffed by the Hopkins Hospital to process tests, establishing five testing sites on the Homewood Campus and hiring and training over 30 people to run them. 

According to Gange, the University can now conduct over 4,000 tests per day with 24-hour turnaround times. Additionally, the University will use genetic testing technology to identify new variants of the virus and implement wastewater testing in campus residence halls as a further outbreak-detection measure. 

Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger noted that students will need to make appointments for their COVID-19 testing through MyChart. Students will also use MyChart to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines if eligible under Maryland state law.

“Our undergraduate students do need to participate in a twice-a-week asymptomatic testing and receive at least two negative tests that are 48 hours apart before participating in any in-person classes or University-sponsored activities,” he said.

He also recommended that students take a COVID-19 test in their hometown 72 hours before traveling; this test is not mandatory but is recommended by public health guidelines. Shollenberger noted that Student Financial Services can assist with the cost of COVID-19 tests taken prior to travel. 

Mollin noted that in addition to participating in the biweekly testing, students should honor the Social Compact, which will be launched in a few weeks. 

“The biggest thing beside the measures that the University has in place is whether us as students can hold each other accountable to actually do everything that is prescribed in a return to campus guide,” he said.

Quarantine periods 

Students who test positive for COVID-19 will receive not only a notification from MyChart but also a call from a nurse. Students who test positive in on-campus housing will be required to move to isolation housing immediately. For students living off-campus, isolation housing and transportation to the housing will be provided by the University if adherence to public health guidelines is not possible in their off-campus housing. 

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan explained that students will also be assigned a case manager once they have tested positive. 

“These case managers are there to assist students with any hiccups they have along the way  — any assistance they may need connecting with academic advisors or faculty, connecting with their families or just checking with the mental health of the student,” she said. “We want to make it as pleasant as possible given the circumstances.” 

Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka added that students will have access to support groups through the Counseling Center and can talk with a University chaplain while in isolation housing. 

Move-in

Move-in for students living on-campus will be conducted on Jan. 16, 17 and 19. Jan. 18 will not be used for move-in in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Students will begin their move-in time slot with a COVID-19 test at Shriver Hall before going to their assigned residence halls. 

Dean of Academic and Student Services Andy Wilson stressed that because of public health guidelines, parents will not be allowed into the residence halls to help their children unpack. 

“It is a dramatically different move-in than the traditional rite of passage, and it is something we know is a bit of a strain and a pain point for families,” he said. “We do want to make sure that families have the opportunity to say goodbye to their students, and we are hoping they can do so outside the residence halls.” 

Additionally, the University will not allow traditional moving staff into the residence halls, some of which do not have elevators. Because of this, Wilson encouraged students to mail the majority of their items to the University ahead of time and pack only their essentials for move-in day itself. He noted that students will not be allowed into mail rooms to pick up the rest of their belongings until they have received their first negative COVID-19 test result, 24 hours after their move-in slot.

According to Ruzicka, orientation and other first-year activities will be held virtually, with some in-person elements added once students receive negative COVID-19 test results. 

“While students may be physically distant, they will be socially connected,” she said. “They will have virtual floor meetings with RAs [Resident Advisors], they will get to know the folks on their floor virtually and then hopefully start to see them in small numbers.” 

Wilson added that the University will offer campus tours and a community walk of Charles Village in person with virtual social programming each night.

Freshman Sai Dharmasena, who lived in the Homewood Apartments during the fall, stated that she wishes the University would allow students into each other’s dorm rooms in an email to The News-Letter

“It’s unreasonable to not allow students in each other’s dorms in a pod system,” she wrote. “This fails to fully accomplish the goal of preventing the spread of COVID, as people are more likely to meet in unsafe locations off campus, not to mention deteriorating mental health due to compounding stress and isolation.”

On-campus activities

University leaders underscored that on-campus activities will occur in accordance with state and federal COVID-19 regulations.

Wilson explained that only students living on campus will have access to Nolan’s and the Fresh Food Cafe, both of which will be open for Grab-and-Go dining all day. Levering Kitchens, Brody Cafe and CharMar will be open to students living in off-campus housing as well.

Shanahan highlighted that the University intends to open the Brody Learning Commons, but officials are still unsure when it will be available to students. 

Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Janet Weise clarified that students whose courses require access to on-campus workspaces will be allowed to access those spaces. 

The Recreation Center will be open as well at a limited capacity, with masks required. According to Director of Athletics and Recreation Jen Baker, students will be able to reserve up to four 45-minute time slots per week; the facility will not be open during move-in, but University leaders expect it will open shortly after. 

In an email to The News-Letter, freshman Lauren Zou expressed her disappointment with the lack of certainty the University leaders offered.

“I wish some decisions, especially in regards to library and study space re-openings, could have been finalized before the webinar took place,” she wrote.

Off-campus students 

Ruzicka emphasized that students not on campus will still have access to virtual programming.

“90% of our programming will continue to be virtual,” she said. “Those students who are not on campus, who are living internationally or have chosen to stay at home, will still have a robust opportunity to engage in larger programming, as well as smaller groups in more intimate, cohort-based programming.”

Associate Vice Provost for International Programs and Student and Scholar Services Jim Brailer noted that the United States’ Student Exchange Visitor Program has not yet issued its formal guidance for the spring, meaning that return plans may be uncertain for international students.

However, Brailer believes that the guidelines from the fall will hold through the rest of the year. 

“They have intimated to our professional units that the guidance that was in place for the spring 2020 and modified for fall 2020 should be expected to continue for the spring semester,” he said.

This means any student who enrolled in the fall of 2020 can return if their program and course schedule offers in-person opportunities, and students who were already enrolled in spring 2020 can return even if their coursework is completely remote.

Because visa applications and travel bans differ by country, Brailer recommended that international students with questions about their individual situations reach out to OIS@jhu.edu.

Gabriel Lesser contributed reporting to this article. 

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