In two email broadcasts sent to affiliates on Mar. 9, the University announced relaxations of the indoor masking policy for vaccinated affiliates and a spring break travel testing requirement. Effective immediately, masks are no longer required in administrative spaces, public events, research labs, athletic facilities, libraries, residence halls and other public nonclassroom communal spaces.
Masks will continue to be required in classroom spaces, except for instructors who can maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
Freshman Resham Talwar wrote in an email to The News-Letter that she is nervous about a rise in cases after spring break.
“I feel like this policy works for now but if the influx in cases after spring break is anything like the influx in cases after Intersession, we’re signing ourselves up for major chaos by relaxing the policy,” she wrote. “For now, it certainly is nice to be sitting in the Brody Learning Commons and going to the gym and not having to wear a mask.”
She added that she is still concerned about having to quarantine, as well as the possibility of transmitting COVID-19 to others.
“I don’t think the trade-off is worth it. I’d rather wear a mask and be annoyed about it low-key than to be quarantined for five days and also be a risk to vulnerable people around me,” she wrote. “As a vaccinated person, I feel like my fears are minuscule in comparison to those who have other health concerns and who are going to be at the receiving end of this policy too.”
According to the broadcast, the weekly testing policy will remain in place. Those who are not boosted or have a vaccination mandate exception must continue to be masked in all indoor spaces. Free masks will continue to be distributed throughout the semester.
The University officials emphasized that people can continue masking in mask-optional spaces to their discretion.
“We know that many people hold strong personal feelings about masking. We also know that consistent, proper use of high-quality face masks is one of the most effective measures to limit the spread of COVID-19,” they wrote. “We thus encourage students, faculty and staff to continue masking if that makes them more comfortable or if they have particular circumstances that influence their personal level of risk.”
Green explained why classroom settings are subject to different rules.
“Instructional spaces are treated differently because students tend to spend longer periods of time in close proximity with one another in classrooms and labs than elsewhere and to interact with a greater variety of people than they do in other settings like residence halls,” he wrote. “In spite of those factors, we have been fortunate not to have any documented COVID-19 transmission in our instructional spaces since the beginning of the pandemic, and compliance with our mask mandate is a chief reason for that.”
This change in policy comes one week after Baltimore City lifted its indoor mask mandate.
Freshman Jackson Morris reflected on the University’s cautious approach to lifting requirements in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I am glad Hopkins has taken a week to wait and see rather than immediately jumping into a removal of mask policies with the rest of the city,” he said. “I also am glad that Hopkins recognized that the city’s ongoing policy has been successful and that it does not need to be a pariah from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Baltimore community.”
Morris discussed the disparity between mask usage on campus and in Baltimore City.
“I’ve been around a few places in Baltimore in the past week, and there is a palpable difference from being within four blocks of Hopkins and outside of it,” he said. “I would fear that the University’s status as the lone institution with generalized mask requirements would further separate it from the rest of the Baltimore community, and from a visual standpoint it was quite striking.”
Additionally, relaxations on food service at indoor events and requiring campus guests over 5 years old to follow the University’s vaccination requirement were originally supposed to be lifted on March 19, but are now lifted effective immediately.
Junior Breanna Soldatelli is excited about expanded possibilities for events. She is a member of Hillel, a Jewish community on campus, and while the group was already able to hold dinners for religious reasons, they were not able to invite members of the public.
“We haven't been able to open them up to the public, or co-host events or anything because we can't have food at actual events,” she said. “That will allow us to have other people there and really just expand the group.”
The email noted that the policies are not fixed and are subject to change based on changes in COVID-19 cases.
“We will continue to evaluate public health conditions and may lift remaining mask mandates if community COVID-19 rates reach a lower level, likely not before the rate is less than 10 new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days,” it said. “If rates appear to rise over a sustained period, we may reinstate a broad masking requirement and other measures to ensure community safety.”
Residential students traveling outside the Greater Baltimore area over spring break are also required to test using at-home test kits before returning to campus and upon arrival. Test kits will be distributed to students at the Shriver Hall and Peabody Institute test sites. Students will also be required to test at the on-campus test sites either March 28 or 29.
Students living off campus are also encouraged to follow these guidelines. Those who do not travel for spring break are subject to the normal testing requirements, and those who do must register their travel in Prodensity.
According to Morris, the spring break testing protocol could be improved.
“It is a superfluous requirement and misuse of University testing resources for the students who are not going back to ‘high-risk’ areas for COVID-19,” he said. “It would be better if the University prioritized access to these testing kits for students who are going back to areas with outbreaks or COVID-19 prevalence.”
Soldatelli reflected on the timing of these announcements.
“Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of all the students getting kicked off campus,” she said. “That's the poetic irony there that we're finally returning almost to normal exactly two years after this all happened.”
Yana Mulani contributed reporting to this article.
The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the enhanced masking policy is no longer in effect. The News-Letter regrets this error.