Barely a week after the semester began, the University detected a spike in COVID-19 cases on Homewood Campus. The cluster was connected to a large party hosted off campus by the North Charles Social Club (WAWA), as well as other smaller events.
In response, Hopkins closed campus facilities and shut down all in-person classes on Feb. 3. The next day, the policies tightened: Hopkins increased testing to three times a week and instituted a two-day suspension on all student gatherings, both indoors and outdoors.
Detecting another rise in cases, the ban was extended to Feb. 8 and then extended again until 8 a.m. on Feb. 11. Last night, the University announced that in-person classes would resume, and students would otherwise be limited to five-person gatherings through the end of the month.
The students who caused the cluster were undoubtedly irresponsible, with at least three students facing pending expulsions for attending a party while knowingly testing positive for COVID-19.
We commend the University’s swift action and note with relief the subsequent downward trend in COVID-19 cases. However, we wonder if the response should have been more nuanced. An eight-day suspension of all in-person activities, including small outdoor gatherings, does not take into account the relatively low risk of, say, a distanced walk with a friend. Instead, it may counterproductively drive people indoors or out to bars and restaurants in the Baltimore community.
In the inevitable event of future outbreaks, Hopkins should reconsider this ban. While we understand the reasoning, keeping all students from seeing each other effectively punishes those who did not break any rules. It might not be sustainable to ban all forms of gatherings every time there is a spike. Socially distanced walks and masked outdoor gatherings may be the only human interaction for those living alone in this challenging time.
We also urge Hopkins to make the repercussions for engaging in future COVID-19 violations extremely clear. According to current University guidelines regarding COVID-19 protocol, there are three levels of rule breaking: minor, major and critical violations. These guidelines outline punishments up through expulsion. Hopkins can and should ensure that students know the specific disciplinary actions they will face if they blatantly ignore guidelines.
Some have blamed the University for the recent outbreak because it brought students back to campus. However, knowing that students would likely return to Charles Village regardless of whether classes were online-only, administrators stepped up in providing safety precautions. Only 18% of classes are held in-person. Student club gatherings will require extensive registration. There is finally consistent asymptomatic testing for students living off campus.
The fault lies with the students who engaged in selfish and dangerous behavior. Attending a maskless party is more than a basic conduct violation. If you were at a large gathering, at least be honest — you may even be granted amnesty. Otherwise, you’re putting the entire community at risk, including friends, roommates, professors, staff and all of Charles Village.
As we’ve said basically every week this semester, remember that a negative test result doesn’t mean you’re virus-free. Your result may be a false negative, and you could get sick before your next test. Remember to wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing. These are Hopkins requirements, as well as recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We all know the rules. It’s on us to follow them.