The University announced modifications to its COVID-19 policies for the spring semester in response to the low number of positive tests in the first week of students returning to campus in an email to the Hopkins community on Sunday. The modifications include resuming in-person dining and requiring a negative COVID-19 test before leaving quarantine.
Indoor dining started operating at 50% capacity at the Fresh Food Cafe, Nolan’s and Peabody Dining on Jan. 31 and will resume at Levering Kitchens on Feb. 7.
The email acknowledged that certain safety precautions must stay in place while eating.
“We know that eating is also a time to socialize and catch up with friends. We ask that you be vigilant and only remove your mask while actually eating and to put your mask back on if you continue to socialize,” administration wrote. “You should also distance while unmasked, by sitting only at the designated seats and tables and not moving the furniture closer together.”
In an interview with The News-Letter, freshman Julia Mendes Queiroz expressed her excitement to be able to have meals with her friends, mentioning that she had been discouraged at the initial plans for the semester.
“Hopkins has to be very careful because it already has a very stressed out student population, and when you start taking away the little moments that people have to relax during the day, it can have a negative impact on mental health,” she said.
Vice President for Communications Andrew Green wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the resumption of in-person residential dining stems from the much lower rates of cases in comparison to peer universities, as well as the falling rates in the Baltimore community.
Green reassured that the University’s constant vigilance of public health guidelines informs adjusting protocols at the various campuses.
“With the omicron surge waning, our campus numbers remaining low, and our vaccination and booster mandate coming into place February 1, we anticipate further relaxations of some of the new restrictions that impact students over the next two weeks,” he wrote.
Mendes Queiroz questioned what the University considered to be a low number of COVID-19 cases and why statistics were not reported in emails to the student body.
According to the University’s COVID-19 testing dashboard, 68 students tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2.
Green elaborated that policy decisions were not based on specific numeric targets but a combination of various metrics, guidance from health officials and national trends.
Rahman pointed out inconsistencies in the University’s COVID-19 restriction plans, such as the fact that in-person dining is only being resumed now, while areas such as Mudd Hall and Levering Lounge have been spaces to eat in since the start of the semester.
“I’m sure there might be some specifics to it, maybe staffing or something, but I find it a bit weird that it seems like the University’s policy is that you can’t get COVID-19 in Mudd Hall,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is for JHU to just be consistent with their policies, especially with in-person classes, campus-wide events and the no-guest policy.”
Green stated that the University’s priority is providing in-person instruction and described how the current protocols help maintain this.
“Of note, we have not documented any cases of COVID transmission in classroom or laboratory environments,” he wrote. “A critical element of our approach is masking, as reflected by our current enhanced masking requirements, and universal masking requirement in classrooms. We are maintaining the guest restriction in on-campus housing for now because residential students are permitted to be unmasked in their rooms, and it would be impossible to require masking in that setting.”
The University’s email also stated a change in the procedure to leave isolation and quarantine after receiving a positive test. The University continues to require a five-day isolation period after which time the student must be 100% symptom-free. The change in policy is seen in the new condition that the student must use an iHealth rapid test kit, the same antigen-based kits used during Move-In Weekend, and receive a negative test result. In order to ensure reliability, the test will be observed via FaceTime or Microsoft Teams.
Freshman Xinan Rahman feels encouraged by this new measure.
“As long as JHU is taking measures that are consistent with CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and WHO [World Health Organization] guidelines, I feel like they have measures in place to monitor individuals given that they're not administering testing themselves,” he said.
The email to the community also contained reminders that the University’s on-campus masking policy has been updated and that N95, KN95, KF94 or a combination of a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask are now required. Furthermore, the email prompted those who had not yet uploaded proof of their booster shot to the Vaccine Management System to do so before the deadline on Feb. 1 or as soon as they become eligible.