After two years of hybrid learning, the University has transitioned to a fully in-person modality for the fall 2022 semester with normal operations and relaxed public health restrictions. The most updated guidelines make masking optional and do not require routine asymptomatic testing. Many students expressed concerns about this transition with COVID-19 still posing a health risk.
In an email to The News-Letter, junior Elaina Regier explained that the University's decision to relax health restrictions may be premature since there is still a portion of the Hopkins community that faces serious health risks from COVID-19.
“I don’t know how much disabled and immunocompromised individuals were taken into consideration when the University decided to return to in-person learning, but I do know that the problem has barely been addressed in communications from the University,” she wrote. “I’m glad that Hopkins is still providing asymptomatic testing and high-quality masks, but communications don’t even recommend utilizing these to be considerate of our peers.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President for Media Relations & News J.B. Bird commented on what factors informed the new COVID-19 policies.
“As has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, our policies reflect close consultation with Johns Hopkins experts in public health and infectious disease, as well as compliance with state and local regulations,“ he wrote.
He stated that wearing a high-quality mask reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19, even when others are unmasked, and strongly recommended masking to those at an increased risk.
In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Chinat Yu explained that while he understands that it might be difficult for the University to assess which rules to keep or modify due to evolving research, he wishes that there was a strategy that the University could implement to allow students to keep better track of changing rules.
“Imagine a table that says these were the policies beforehand and these are the policies that are new,” he said. “There would be less ambiguity, and there will also be more of a sense of control from the administration side.”
Bird responded to students’ concerns about a lack of communication. He pointed to the university-wide communication that provided students and instructors with documented disabilities or chronic illnesses or conditions towards the Office of Institutional Equity or Student Disability Services for formal accommodations.
Regier also discussed how changes to health guidelines introduce additional challenges to disabled students because they need to adjust the accommodations they used during online learning to an in-person environment.
“Students may have gotten used to certain assistive technologies that don’t function the same in-person,” she wrote. “This could just lead to small changes or even be beneficial in some cases, but no longer being able to rely on something like speech-to-text technology, which is often more inconsistent in in-person classes, can be difficult and scary to adapt to."
Yu described how hybrid learning allowed for advancements in software and technology that supplements in-person learning. He has been working on a project called Quest to Learn, an augmented reality project that simulates virtual lab sciences and provides students with a remote learning opportunity.
He emphasized that these technological advancements should not be left behind as students transition back to fully in-person learning.
“Even though we return to an in-person education system, these kinds of technological breakthroughs or software actually help benefit and supplement students,” he said. “These kinds of information, if made more available to more students, would really benefit the students’ transition out of the online and hybrid system into a fully in-person system.”
However, Yu acknowledged that he missed the face-to-face communication that in-person classes offer.
“I've benefited a lot from coming back to this fully in-person modality just because I'm the kind of person who learns best when I'm actually in the classroom and engaging with the professors or getting the chance to walk around the campus and learn from different people,” he said.
Sophomore Meera Bhat expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with The News-Letter.
“While it has been pretty tiring coming back to fully in-person, it has been comforting to go back to something that was so familiar where all of us were able to interact with each other face to face,” she said.
Transitioning to a fully in-person semester has also challenged professors to adopt an in-person teaching style that considers students who may be unable to attend in person.
Bhat has noticed that some of her professors have been trying to accommodate students by offering lecture recordings and allowing for flexibility if students feel unwell.
“I've gotten multiple messages from professors saying that if you feel sick in any way, they strongly emphasize to stay home and make sure you take care of yourself,” she said.
Similarly Regier expressed hopes that professors will use strategies from hybrid learning environments, like streaming in-person lectures via Zoom and offering recordings, to make lectures more accessible to all students.
“Navigating through campus, being surrounded by people, having to focus without breaks, and many other aspects of in-person learning can be exhausting to disabled students,” she wrote. “If attending a lecture online or watching a recording allows you to save that energy, it can be put to use elsewhere.”