The University reinstated several COVID-19 safety protocols in an email sent to undergraduate students on May 6, including updated masking and testing guidance.
Undergraduate students will be required to test twice a week and masking will now be required in libraries and study areas, including Brody Learning Commons, given its increased use during finals week. Guests helping students move out of residence halls will also be required to wear masks.
The email noted the uptick in cases came in the wake of student events, including the Meek Mill concert on April 30. On May 10, the campus dashboard reported that 531 students had tested positive for COVID-19 in the last seven days.
Vice President for Communications Andrew Green discussed the University’s decision to expand COVID-19 protocols in an email to The News-Letter.
“Given the changed circumstances, we have since reinstated required masking at large (greater than 50 people) indoor events, and now require that food and drink at large indoor student events be served outside or in a grab-and-go format,“ he wrote. “We are also encouraging masking at smaller events.”
In a subsequent email to residential students, the University wrote that it is prioritizing off-campus isolation housing for students most in need, including those who have medical conditions that increase their risk for COVID-19, those who are experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19 or those who live with roommates and are unable to self-isolate. Students who are quarantined in their own rooms can only leave their dorms to pick up packaged meals from designated locations.
In an email to The News-Letter, sophomore Katharine Durbin described her experience with the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Call Center (JHCCC).
Durbin got tested on May 4 and received her positive COVID-19 test result the next day. She was told that those who do not have roommates would need to isolate in place.
“I was told I would be emailed about [food and laundry]. However, I have not received one yet so I have just been ordering food for now,” she wrote. “Someone else told me how they are picking up their food from the isolation people and so I did that this morning.”
She also highlighted the lack of specific information from both the JHCCC and the Student Health and Wellness Center (SWHC). She had hoped that students isolating in place would have received more academic support from the University, as she described that her COVID-19 symptoms made studying for exams difficult.
“Although this level of outbreak is unprecedented here, it would be nice if the resources were made more readily available and the procedures for students in isolation housing were posted somewhere so I wouldn’t have to rely on not being forgotten in an email chain,” she wrote. “Additionally, more information on how to take care of yourself when experiencing COVID symptoms would be helpful, especially for those of us who have never had it before.”
According to Green, students who are isolating in place can pick up a package of three meals daily at a designated time and place, as it does not pose a significant risk to the community.
In an interview with The News-Letter, junior Pranav Samineni shared that he decided to go back to his parents’ home after testing positive for COVID-19 to make sure his roommate would not be exposed.
He believes that he was most likely exposed to COVID-19 at the Spring Fair concert. He mentioned that four out of the six people he went to the concert with had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I do think it was a bit odd that the concert was hosted indoors,“ he said. “The cautious approach might have been to either limit the capacity since we were nearly face-to-face or to host it outside in the stadium, but I definitely wasn't expecting to see so many cases explode out of it.”
Green stated that the concert was planned and occurred when there was low COVID-19 transmission on campus. He reiterated that the University operates in line with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and input from public health and infectious disease experts.
“The selection of the event venue took into consideration already scheduled outdoor venues, the technology and equipment required to provide the kind of listening and production students expected and was planned and executed in full compliance with the University’s COVID protocols,” he wrote. “Masks were encouraged but optional for vaccinated students, and attendance capacity at the concert was limited.”
Testing difficulties and invalid testing
In an interview with The News-Letter, freshman Stephanie Rodriguez detailed receiving an invalid test result on May 4 after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. She then obtained a rapid test, where she tested negative for COVID-19.
Rodriguez expressed feeling fearful of a positive test result.
“I had moments of hesitation as I scheduled my COVID test appointment,” she wrote. “My fears ranged from having to study in quarantine and having to take make up exams.”
Students also revealed that as long as they report having no symptoms after a five-day isolation period, there are no requirements to test negative before being released from quarantine.
Green defended the protocols by citing multiple ways through which the University is ensuring the spread of COVID-19 is inhibited.
“Students are still interviewed. If they exhibit symptoms, they remain in isolation even if they say they don’t have symptoms,“ he wrote. “Lying about symptoms is a conduct code violation.”
After being released, students are instructed to continue masking and avoid public transportation until at least day ten after testing positive.
Green added that isolation housing is being prioritized for the most recent cases.
“Residential students in university-provided isolation housing will be released on day 7+ even if they still have symptoms,” he wrote. “This will enable us to prioritize isolation housing for students with new-onset COVID infections since people are more contagious two days before on-set of symptoms and the first 3-4 days of symptoms, and significantly less so on day 7+ of symptoms.”
He also detailed that the University will try its best to accommodate students who are still in isolation at the end of the semester on a case-by-case basis.
Additionally, even if students have not completed the required time in isolation, Green explained that they can leave if they don’t take public transport and are cleared by their health care provider upon sharing their travel plans.
With the rise in COVID-19 cases at Hopkins, students questioned the modality of finals, especially for large classes that are major requirements for underclassmen.
In an email to The News-Letter, Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Treasurer Kya Nicholson wrote that in-person finals would be unsafe.
“The University should require all professors to give an online option for students,“ she wrote. “We shouldn't have to risk our lives and others to take an exam that can be accommodated to keep us all safe.”
SGA Senator Sophie Liu started an online petition to make all finals for undergraduate students online, citing the complications for students who are quarantined and for those who have to travel abroad.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Liu detailed how being quarantined after contracting COVID-19 made it difficult to study for her exams while she was symptomatic. Additionally, she found it challenging to schedule makeup in-person exams because she planned to return home right after getting out of quarantine.
She was initially only offered to receive an incomplete in one of her classes and take a makeup exam in the fall, with no online option, before her professor heard similar concerns from other students and moved the exam online.
“I'm just worried that [an incomplete] will show [on] my transcripts even if it does get eventually fixed“ she said. “I would not have created [this petition] had I not heard dozens and dozens of complaints from other undergrad students that have very similar issues and concerns as I do.”
On May 9, Liu received an email response to her petition from the administration, which she posted online. The response thanked students for sharing their concerns but revealed that the University has no plans to move to entirely online examinations, leaving each exam to the discretion of the instructor.
Liu felt their response was very similar to the University’s most recent email on the same matter.
“I just wanted it to be a bit more personalized and something that really addresses what the students’ concerns were, and not just giving us an average and what felt like an almost robotic response,” she said.
Freshman Aliana Manji, who also tested positive for COVID-19, echoed the same frustrations in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I don't see why they can't move exams online and allow us to move home a little earlier to put our health first,“ she said. “We're the students, we make up the school. They're not going to put us first when we should be their first priority.”
Green stated there has been no recorded COVID-19 transmission in instructional spaces since the beginning of the pandemic and that the University has full confidence in the safety of in-person examinations.
“While there are no plans to pivot to entirely online examinations, a number of instructors have been modifying their final assessments on a class-by-class basis,“ he wrote. “The ability to make such changes depends on a number of specifics to that course. Instructors have also been reminded of the resources that we’ve had in place since the beginning of the pandemic for assessing students remotely.”
Green added that if a student reaches out to a professor and states they are in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19, professors are required not to seek further validation. He directed students to reach out to their academic advisors or the deans’ offices to navigate any issues with professors.