Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 27, 2021

The latest this semester: False test results and mass Peabody housing contract terminations

By ISHAN KALBURGE and CYNTHIA HU | March 18, 2021

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ELIZABETH IM/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR

The University terminated the housing contracts of several Peabody students.

Last week, some students and staff on the Homewood Campus who tested on Monday, March 8 were incorrectly notified that they had tested positive for COVID-19.

Sophomore Mimi Mensah empathizes with the demand created by the increase in testing requirements. However, she wishes that the University had reached out to students more proactively. She was notified via email the next morning that her test result had been false.

“I’m fully vaccinated. I started thinking, ‘Does the vaccine not work?’ I freaked out. I had a couple panic attacks and cried a little,” she said. “I was annoyed with the school for not telling us sooner and not doing it as efficiently, like calling us, because it was traumatic.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Karen Lancaster, the assistant vice president of external relations for the Office of Communications, noted that the testing mistake was identified and resolved by Tuesday morning.

“They were not false positives or faulty tests,” she wrote. “There were no issues with the sample collection or analysis of the tests themselves but rather incorrect results reports attributable to human error in the data entry process into MyChart. We have apologized for any stress this error may have caused.”

Lancaster added that around 90 people were impacted and that no one was asked to move to quarantine or isolation housing.

The thought of having to move into quarantine housing and notify parents was especially stress-inducing for sophomore Brandon Tang.

“I told my parents, and they were very stressed about it,” he said. “They wanted to come here and help me out. That evening, I just sat there and talked to my parents and went over stuff. I kept thinking, ‘How could this happen?’”

Students who test positive are typically notified by a HelWell nurse during business hours with instructions to relocate to isolation housing in AMR III, McCoy Hall or the Inn at the Colonnade.

Senior Ritika Kommareddi was worried about the implications of her positive result because of her involvement with the Barnstormers, a Hopkins theater group. 

“We’re doing an in-person musical, and I was really scared that me and my roommate — we both tested positive — that we endangered everyone in the company, which is up to 40 or 50 people,” she said. “It would have been a superspreader, and we would have gotten it canceled.”

Lancaster emphasized that the University has launched a review of the testing process to prevent a recurrence.

The University also took action on reported large gatherings among Peabody students last week. The News-Letter confirmed that the incident involved freshman dance majors who were at an off-campus gathering hosted by upperclassmen.

Lancaster explained that several students who were identified at the gathering were initially quarantined and underwent daily testing out of an abundance of caution. The University has since released them and is continuing its investigation.

“The disciplinary process under the student conduct code is underway in relation to these reported gatherings. Sanctions are possible for those hosting the events as well as those attending,” she wrote. “Should a student, organization or team be found responsible for conduct violations, the full range of conduct sanctions will be considered. Violations of housing contracts are also subject to action.”

The News-Letter separately confirmed, through copies of emails between the University and several freshmen who attended the gathering, that their housing contracts were terminated. Lancaster declined to share how many students’ contracts were terminated.

Yasir Jones, a freshman dance major and one of the students removed from campus, noted that the gathering, which was on March 5, was initially planned to be outdoors.

“The upperclassman dance majors invited the freshmen to an outing, and we were all texted to wear warm clothes and comfortable shoes,” he said. “Naturally we thought we would be outside. Later we got a text to meet at the Standard Apartments building at 9:30.”

According to Jones, the group spent most of its time socializing outside and exploring the Peabody Campus. On two separate occasions, the freshmen were invited to the apartments of upperclassmen to use the bathroom, rest and eat.

Students whose housing contracts have been terminated are encouraged to return home. The measure is also not without precedent; 11 Homewood students were removed from housing before the start of the spring semester.

Jones believes that the University’s reaction was too harsh, arguing that it did not give the students an opportunity to explain their circumstances. 

“The University was too quick in making a decision,” he said. “We weren’t even asked if the event was fully outside or not. It was just based on one person’s report.”

Chris H. Park contributed reporting to this article.

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