The University resumed in-person classes and lifted the ban on indoor and outdoor gatherings on Thursday, Feb. 11. The ban, which followed a COVID-19 cluster caused by a party at the North Charles Social Club (WAWA), began on Wednesday, Feb. 3 and had been extended twice since the University’s initial communication of the outbreak.
New guidelines include a five-person limit for on- and off-campus gatherings and mandatory COVID-19 testing three times a week. Students under stay-at-home orders are now permitted to leave their residences, but students in isolation housing must remain there.
In an email to The News-Letter, junior Michelle Lee, who is currently living off-campus, described the increased testing policy as excessive.
“I understand the logic behind getting tested three times a week, but I feel like I barely even have enough time to get tested twice a week,” she wrote. “There should be an option for people who don’t go out as often to still get tested only twice a week.”
Although the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center will reopen on Feb. 22, University officials urged students to work out virtually or outdoors as much as possible. Similarly, they encouraged students to avoid indoor dining, even though it is an option in Baltimore City.
Freshman Valeria Leal, who currently lives in the Homewood Apartments, expressed optimism for the rest of the semester in an email to The News-Letter.
“It’s a good idea to open up a little bit more, of course being cautious and making sure to follow all the guidelines,” she wrote. “It’s exciting to finally be ‘on-campus’ and be able to see people again.”
However, sophomore Ayla Frost, who currently lives off-campus, stated that resuming in-person activities feels rushed to her.
“Although I am not a public health professional, it seems early to me considering that it is definitely not crucial that students be back in campus buildings,” she said.
In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President of External Relations for the Office of Communications Karen Lancaster clarified that other off-campus activities, such as going to the grocery store or the 32nd Street Farmers Market, are allowed under University policy as long as students are masked.
According to the University’s email, administrators chose to reopen after the past few days of testing reported low positive COVID-19 test counts. They wrote in the email that the five-person limit on gatherings applies to everyone, mandating masks and physical distancing even for roommates and housemates using common areas.
Although Lancaster recognized that students may be unmasked in their own homes, she encouraged students to consider following these guidelines.
“We strongly recommend it as a component of best public health practices,” she wrote.
Frost does not know if it will be possible to impose a five-person cap on all gatherings, noting that she lives in a house of six people.
“Sending out the message might dissuade people from gathering, but I do not think it can be perfectly enforced,” she said.
According to Lancaster, the University is aware that many off-campus residences house more than five students.
“To the greatest extent possible, residents should avoid having more than five people in a given space, e.g., common room, kitchen, dining room, at the same time,” she wrote.
University officials called on students to report anyone violating social distancing guidelines through the LiveSafe app or by calling (844) SPEAK2US.
Chris H. Park contributed reporting to this article.