The University’s limit on undergraduate outdoor gatherings was increased from five to 10 people on March 4. Indoor gatherings are still limited to a maximum of five people.
In an email announcing the change, Provost Sunil Kumar and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Alanna Shanahan explained that the University’s COVID-19 rates have been improving.
“Since the brief spike in cases at the beginning of February, we’ve seen a return to a very low number of COVID-19 cases occurring among Johns Hopkins affiliates. In addition, the number of new cases and test positivity rate have both continued to decline across Maryland over the last several weeks,” they wrote. “Based on this improving situation, we believe we can begin modest modifications of our operating guidance in a safe manner.”
However, Kumar and Shanahan stressed that this change should not lead students to stop following the University’s COVID-19 guidelines.
“Following our gathering limits does not eliminate the danger of COVID transmission — you must still follow all COVID safety protocols, including masking and physical distancing, even among roommates or suitemates,” they wrote. “We know that continuing to comply with these measures remains challenging as we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 impacts at Johns Hopkins, but they remain vital.”
Kumar and Shanahan also discouraged students from eating or drinking at bars or restaurants, noting the danger of being maskless inside for a long period of time.
Junior Zachary Ellis told The News-Letter that though he does not expect this rule change to affect his day-to-day life, it may have a significant effect on clubs. For example, as a board member for the Johns Hopkins Outdoors Club (JHOC), Ellis suggested that activities like biking trips may now be possible.
“Gatherings like that are really not going to let us go even near our past function level,” he said. “Still, we’re hoping that this might allow us to do some more on-campus stuff... but we still need approval to do some of that.”
Ellis clarified that most of JHOC’s usual activities will not be possible this semester. Most of their trips take place one or two hours from campus by car, he said, and the club cannot risk having its members in confined spaces such as cars for so long.
In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President of External Relations for the Office of Communications Karen Lancaster explained that University restrictions are necessary in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Additional changes can be considered when we see consistently low numbers of new COVID infections amongst JHU students as well as sustained improvements in the local public health situation,” she wrote. “We are still seeing cases arise from small indoor gatherings.”
Lancaster also shared that the University has several outdoor health and wellness events in the works now that the gathering limit has been increased.
Sophomore and Outdoor Pursuits member Ryan Retino predicted that the new outdoor gathering limit will improve morale on campus, especially for those whose clubs can benefit.
“It’s a great opportunity, especially for the freshmen, who haven’t gotten to have this experience yet,” he said.
Retino explained that Outdoor Pursuits is looking for ways to engage students outside through lawn games and other methods.
He also expressed his support for the University’s COVID-19 guidelines, arguing that they keep the campus safe.
“It’s because everyone’s been listening well enough for the past few weeks that they’re able to do this. We really took the precautions to reach this point and time,” he said. “If everyone follows the guidelines, we’ll be able to take more steps forward.”