<![CDATA[The Johns Hopkins News-Letter]]> Sat, 28 Nov 2020 08:17:05 -0500 Sat, 28 Nov 2020 08:17:05 -0500 SNworks CEO 2020 The Johns Hopkins News-Letter <![CDATA[A closer look at U.S. deaths due to COVID-19]]> Editor's Note: After The News-Letter published this article on Nov. 22, it was brought to our attention that our coverage of Genevieve Briand's presentation "COVID-19 Deaths: A Look at U.S. Data" has been used to support dangerous inaccuracies that minimize the impact of the pandemic.

We decided on Nov. 26 to retract this article to stop the spread of misinformation, as we noted on social media. However, it is our responsibility as journalists to provide a historical record. We have chosen to take down the article from our website, but it is available here as a PDF.

In accordance with our standards for transparency, we are sharing with our readers how we came to this decision. The News-Letter is an editorially and financially independent, student-run publication. Our articles and content are not endorsed by the University or the School of Medicine, and our decision to retract this article was made independently.

Briand's study should not be used exclusively in understanding the impact of COVID-19, but should be taken in context with the countless other data published by Hopkins, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As assistant director for the Master's in Applied Economics program at Hopkins, Briand is neither a medical professional nor a disease researcher. At her talk, she herself stated that more research and data are needed to understand the effects of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Briand was quoted in the article as saying, "All of this points to no evidence that COVID-19 created any excess deaths. Total death numbers are not above normal death numbers." This claim is incorrect and does not take into account the spike in raw death count from all causes compared to previous years. According to the CDC, there have been almost 300,000 excess deaths due to COVID-19. Additionally, Briand presented data of total U.S. deaths in comparison to COVID-19-related deaths as a proportion percentage, which trivializes the repercussions of the pandemic. This evidence does not disprove the severity of COVID-19; an increase in excess deaths is not represented in these proportionalities because they are offered as percentages, not raw numbers.

Briand also claimed in her analysis that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may be incorrectly categorized as COVID-19-related deaths. However, COVID-19 disproportionately affects those with preexisting conditions, so those with those underlying conditions are statistically more likely to be severely affected and die from the virus.

Because of these inaccuracies and our failure to provide additional information about the effects of COVID-19, The News-Letter decided to retract this article. It is our duty as a publication to combat the spread of misinformation and to enhance our fact-checking process. We apologize to our readers.

<![CDATA[CUE2 finalizes recommendations for undergraduate learning]]> The Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) released its final report on Nov. 20. The report made a wide array of recommendations to improve the undergraduate experience at Hopkins, including replacing the distribution requirements to obtain a degree. CUE2 was formed in 2017 to promote interdisciplinary learning and mental health on campus.

Co-chaired by Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) Dean Ed Schlesinger and former Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) Dean Beverly Wendland, CUE2 is made up of 30 faculty, staff, administrators, undergraduates and alumni.

Since its creation, CUE2 has released draft plans and held town halls to collect community input on its recommendations.

In email to The News-Letter, Student Government Association Junior Class President Nathan Mudrak stated that CUE2 successfully took student voices into consideration.

"My confidence in the report is especially gained by the comprehensive and thorough approach the commission took to garnering student feedback," he wrote. "Personally, my communication with the commission's leads has been remarkably productive and fruitful. I look forward to continuing to work with them as we discuss the finer details of the report's actualization."

In the forward to the report, Wendland and Schlesinger addressed how the pandemic has impacted CUE2's recommendations.

"The CUE2 report and its aspirational recommendations are even more important for a post-COVID-19 world and for a country intensely engaged in social discord than it was before," they wrote. "Some of the recommendations offer rich and unprecedented opportunities to shift the ethos of our undergraduate education and for holistic examination of complex issues of bigotry and racism in our institutions and culture."

The report emphasizes expanding accessibility at the University.

"The commission was concerned by evidence that the opportunities presently available at Hopkins are not available equally to all," the report reads.

CUE2 made several recommendations to increase accessibility between KSAS and WSE.

Notably, the report called for replacing the current system of obtaining a degree by restructuring the undergraduate curriculum around the development of "six foundational abilities."

"The current distribution requirements system should be replaced with a mandate and mechanism by which students acquire newly defined foundational abilities in language and writing; scientific, numerical, and algorithmic reasoning; interpreting complex creative expression; citizenship in a diverse world; reflective ethical agency; and independent conceptualization and collaborative undertaking of large-scale, consequential projects," the report reads.

In addition to rethinking the University's distribution requirements, CUE2 argued that the University should require students to take a first-year seminar with a full-time faculty.

The report asked that the University give students the option of taking a "Hopkins semester" of independent study in their junior or senior year. Students would use the semester to engage in a semester-long internship or research project.

The parameters of the Hopkins semester evolved over the report's drafts; it was originally seen as an opportunity for students to engage in a research project outside their field of study.

Instead, in order to accommodate the Hopkins semester, CUE2 recommended that the University change its major requirements. Under the final plan, undergraduates should take at least 33% of their classes outside courses necessary for their major.

CUE2 also proposed that Hopkins ensure that financial assistance is offered to students seeking instruction, mentorship and seminars by professors in the University's professional schools.

"Undergraduates should have access to the full breadth of talent represented in the university's faculty," the report reads. "The provost should direct every division of the university to demonstrate that they have both individual courses and master's programs open to Hopkins undergraduates."

Additionally, CUE2 asked the University to expand advising for undergraduate students. Instead of simply having academic and major advisors, the commission believes that each student should also be given a faculty mentor and a coach in the Life Design Lab.

The final report also suggested changes to the process of assessing teaching and advising at the University.

"The assessment of teaching and mentoring now in place at Hopkins requires immediate reform," the report reads. "The provost should charge the vice deans of education from across the University to determine comprehensive, transparent practices for the assessment of teaching and mentoring for all Johns Hopkins faculty."

In addition, CUE2 stressed that faculty members must be able to clearly state the knowledge and skills they expect students to learn by the end of the course. The commission also highlighted the need for students to receive comprehensive feedback on their work. According to CUE2, student work should be assessed on an individual level without reference to other students' work.

Mudrak emphasized the importance of continuing listening to student voices as the final report is implemented.

"While students certainly need to continue to be consulted as the final report is implemented, the commission's previous actions give me the hope and confidence to believe that their student-centered focus will remain," he wrote.

Students on CUE2 could not be reached for comment as of publication.


The report contains recommendations for improving the undergraduate experience at Hopkins.

<![CDATA[Panelists explore how grassroots groups shape politics]]> IDEAL, a nonpartisan, student-run political organization, held a virtual panel on the role of grassroots organizations in the 2020 elections on Nov. 19. The webinar featured Monica Trejo, Arizona state director for Care in Action, and Melissa Walker, director of Giving Circles.

The conversation was especially focused on local governments and state legislatures, which Trejo and Walker characterized as an often overlooked but crucial part of the American political landscape.

Trejo highlighted the importance of identity in America and how one's experiences and struggles greatly shape the voice they bring to the table. She described how grassroots organizations like Care in Action provide traditionally marginalized groups a platform to speak on issues that are most important to them.

She also discussed the organization's unique approach to the 2020 campaigns, which included a focus on hiring first-generation college students and other low-propensity voters. Trejo stated that reaching out to groups of people that have historically been ignored or undervalued in the American political conversation has inspired minorities to come out to the polls and vote.

According to Trejo, the pandemic posed a significant challenge to the way grassroots organizations typically reach out to voters. Instead of knocking on doors, Care in Action turned to contactless methods, such as mail and telephone.

"There are a lot of different ways we can stay involved, and this pandemic has given us more flexibility, honestly. You can be more involved in places that you couldn't be before," she said.

Trejo also described the impact of social media on modern political campaigns, commenting that technology has allowed candidates to be more direct and accessible to their constituents. However, she noted that it has also created more polarization and division between parties.

One of Care in Action's central missions is supporting domestic workers, most of whom are women of color and immigrants that have been particularly impacted by COVID-19 due to unemployment. According to Trejo, Care in Action was able to raise millions of dollars for a COVID-19 care fund, which helped domestic workers across the country make ends meet.

Walker explained that Giving Circles, as part of the organization Future Now, focuses heavily on state legislatures and shifting the present power dynamics. As a district-first organization, Giving Circles chose to focus on areas and zones instead of individual candidates.

Walker believes that, in order to shift the placement of power across the U.S., people must determine which states have the greatest potential to flip representative seats and, in particular, which districts can play the most valuable role.

"Some of the metrics that our research team uses include things like, 'Are there districts where Hillary Clinton won or Obama won that still have a Republican state representative or state senator?' We work in those districts to make sure that state legislative candidates have fully-funded campaigns," she said.

She also explored the relationship between American constituents and their representatives. According to Walker, Giving Circles encourages candidates to get to know the citizens in their district in order to understand the issues they truly care about. However, Walker argued that this strategy has become more difficult in the pandemic since there are limited opportunities for face-to-face communication.

She emphasized that democracy is a long fight that Americans must tend to year after year before real results occur and change is achieved.

"Sometimes we are really addicted to fast wins and single-cycle victories, and when it doesn't work out, people lose their will to keep involved, and that is a real shame," she said.

In an interview with The News-Letter, senior Mickey Sloat, president of IDEAL, stated that she enjoyed the event's focus on local politics.

"Much of our focus nowadays is on federal elections, and state and local politics are overlooked when these elections arguably make a larger difference in our day to day lives. Similarly, much attention is paid to candidates and much less to the groups that support them," she said.

Nonprofits and grassroots organizations such as Care in Action and Giving Circles, Sloat said, play a crucial role in politics.

"Grassroots organizations are the backbone of elections," she said. "The chance to engage with these organizers and learn how they made change was not only insightful but inspiring regardless of political affiliation, and I am glad to have hosted this event as IDEAL."


The panelists noted that local governments play an overlooked but crucial role in the political landscape.

<![CDATA[Decision-modelers help policy-makers navigate risks and tradeoffs]]> With the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, individuals, clinical professionals, public health leaders and policy-makers must contend with steep trade-offs and high-stake dilemmas.

What is the optimal sequence of vaccine distribution? Should some groups, like the elderly, be prioritized over others, like health-care workers? Should social equity be considered in addition to deaths and hospitalizations?

To help answer these questions, the second panel of the Nov. 20 COVID-19 Symposium at Hopkins, titled "Navigating the pandemic when effective vaccines are in the toolbox," hosted mathematicians and biostatisticians who model various scenarios to aid in decision-making.

Each of the three models presented by panelists offered different perspectives to bring an end to the pandemic: the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions, the optimal sequence of vaccine distribution and risk projections on the individual and community-level.

Shan Liu, an associate professor at the University of Washington, modeled the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions, like face mask use, social distancing, school closures and contact tracing. Her team tested hundreds of combinations of various rates of compliance. They found that face mask use was key.

"High compliance for face mask use is the most important driver for keeping total infections low," she said. "Society and schools may reopen if 75% to 100% of the population use face masks."

Her team also analyzed COVID-19 cases in King County, a county that includes Seattle. Their simulations found that social vulnerability in a community correlates with total infection rates. Social vulnerability is based on the socioeconomic and racial composition of the community.

Liu plans to continue to modify the model to inform vaccine rollout programs, an issue that Beate Jahn and her colleagues have begun to address with their models. Jahn is an assistant professor at the University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology (UMIT) in Austria.

Jahn and her colleagues modeled the optimal sequence of vaccine administration to five groups: the elderly, middle-aged, vulnerable, young and health-care workers.

"We simulated vaccination of 200,000 people in one of the five groups and calculated long-term outcomes on the entire population," she explained. "By administering the first vaccine doses to the elderly, we can achieve the largest reduction in deaths and hospitalization - about 5% reduction in the entire population."

Their preliminary results suggest that priority should be given to those older than 65 years, then vulnerable people, middle-aged people, health-care workers and finally those 15-44 years old.

However, Jahn acknowledged a limitation in the model - it only considers hospitalizations and deaths. Occupational safety of essential workers, which fall under the ethical principle of risk-compensatory justice, are not taken into account.

"Protecting health-care workers may be essential to keeping the quality of the health-care system and preventing a collapse of the system," she said.

Nilanjan Chatterjee, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at the School of Public Health, took a different approach to determining the optimal distribution of vaccines. His team created a general population and individual-based model for risk of COVID-19 mortality. The model may be useful to distribute vaccines equitably, targeting high-risk individuals.

They created a risk calculator that is open to the public. It incorporates the individual's age, gender, race and various health conditions. The individual's location is used to estimate their experiences of measures in the Index of Multiple Deprivations. All the factors are used to calculate a risk score for the individual.

"We combine the individual-level information with community-level dynamics to produce an absolute rate of mortality for the individual," he explained.

They used their results to create a map with risk projections for the general adult population across 477 U.S. cities.

"We hope the tool will be useful for local policy-makers to decide how much vaccine supplies are needed at the local level, based on the makeup of the population," Chatterjee said.

Harnessing the skills of decision-modelers like Chatterjee is only the first step, according to Uwe Seibert, a professor at UMIT.

"When we make decisions, we have to look at the differences between models, the few percentage points which represent lives that we can save. Then we have to balance them, and that's tough," Siebert said.

Sibert highlighted a mix of ethical principles which must be considered: utility maximization, equity and deontology. These principles may point to diverging paths. If the goal is utility maximization, then the elderly should be prioritized in vaccine distribution since it will lead to the most lives saved. But if the goal is deontology, or our duty as a society, then individuals who face significant occupational hazards or who are important for national security should be given priority.

Dan Gorenstein, the host of the Tradeoffs podcast, called the process "rationing health care." He noted that it is a difficult concept for health policy makers and the general public to accept.

"People sometimes think that the health-care system should offer perfect solutions without downsides," he said.

To help navigate the tradeoffs, the work of the experts like Liu, Jahn and Chatterjee have been, and continue to be, critical for policy makers.

"[The panelists] incorporated real decision questions that must be answered now, or maybe [should have been answered] yesterday," Siebert said. "Some of these models are on the desks of departments of health and ministries in many countries already."


The panelists discussed decision-making models which may inform vaccine distribution and health policies at the local, state and federal levels.

<![CDATA[Hopkins alumni and faculty appointed to Biden's COVID-19 task force]]> Several Hopkins professors and alumni have been invited to serve on the Biden-Harris COVID-19 task force.

One appointee is Dr. Luciana Borio, an infectious disease physician at Hopkins Hospital. Borio worked with the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations in biodefense and counterterrorism, eventually leaving the National Security Council global health security team when it was disbanded under Trump.

In addition to Borio, Dr. Céline Gounder is a Bloomberg School of Public Health graduate and former faculty at the Hopkins School of Medicine working with HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. She is currently a professor at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.

Both Borio and Gounder had been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic on the front lines as medical professionals and scholars when they received a pivotal call in early November inviting them to join Biden's team.

They learned about their invitation just a few days before the rest of the world did. In a matter of days, their world started filling with Zoom calls and press interviews.

"Pretty much, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., literally my calendar is a back-to-back-to-back schedule," Gounder said in a phone interview with The News-Letter.

With only about 10 weeks until Biden's scheduled inauguration day, the team is working long hours, often with all the challenges of virtual collaboration, to ensure the administration is ready to tackle the nation's issues beginning on Jan. 20.

In terms of COVID-19 relief, the team faces a laundry list of tasks. According to Gounder, the team's first priority will be invoking the Defense Production Act. This will activate manufacturers to produce personal protective equipment, which - eight months into the pandemic - is still of insufficient quantity for the current demand.

Two vaccines are set for receiving emergency approval by the end of the year, meaning that the task force will also attempt to realize the monumental feat of making sure every American can receive a vaccine and a booster shot.

Gounder mentioned that multiple different vaccines will likely be administered depending on their characteristics: More sensitive vaccines with stricter storage instructions will likely be administered in urban centers, while vaccines with fewer storage restrictions will go to rural areas.

Even with these measures, Gounder acknowledges that the general public will probably not receive a vaccine until April or May at the earliest. In the meantime, the team will have to work to make monoclonal antibodies, an IV therapy most effective in the early days of illness, a more accessible and convenient treatment option.

Both Borio and Gounder agreed that their clinical experiences have shaped their perspective.

As an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital during the initial surge of cases in New York City this spring, Gounder witnessed first-hand the detrimental effects of a spike in COVID-19, not only on patients and their families, but the entire health-care system.

Gounder expressed her worries that the mortality rate not seen since the beginning of the pandemic in New York could return if hospitals get overwhelmed in the current surge of cases.

Borio described a bittersweet situation of spending less time in the clinic to work with the Biden administration, but still cherishes the time she gets to spend with her patients.

"Something I always carry with me is how would everything I do impact the people I interact with in clinic," Borio said.

Borio and Gounder addressed the fact that due to the General Services Administration's (GSA's) refusal to acknowledge Biden's presidential victory, the transition team has faced some unusual challenges.

"Given the fact that GSA has not yet ascertained the elections, the team is not allowed to interact with the employees of the federal government," Borio said.

This means that it is more difficult for transition team members to learn about important pending actions and vacancies for a given federal agency in advance. On a larger scale, Biden is unable to receive national security briefings and the team is currently limited to using public information for their research.

"It would be like saying, 'Okay, you're gonna have to take over fighting an armed conflict with a foreign power, but we're not gonna share any classified information with you. You're just gonna have to read the New York Times,'" Gounder said.

"I hope that this is the government that will restore the image of how [this work] is important," Borio said. bjectives, including consulting with former federal employees and drawing on the extensive experience of the P resident-elect and his team members.

In addition, many of the team members have worked with each other before in previous projects or administrations, creating a sense of solidarity.

These factors make Borio optimistic about the Biden administration's potential legacy. She expressed her hope of getting more young people into public service in the face of an aging federal workforce and declining government trust.

"I hope that this is the government that will restore the image of how [this work]is important," Borio said.

In addition to Borio and Gounder, several other individuals with ties to Hopkins have been invited to Biden's task force. Vivek Murthy is a former distinguished policy scholar at Bloomberg who served as surgeon-general under the Obama administration.

Additionally, Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Bloomberg, is serving on Biden's Agency Review Team for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Inglesby and Murthy both declined to speak about their role in the administration until a later date.


Borio (left) and Gounder (right) are two of the Hopkins affiliates who have joined the transition team.

<![CDATA[Baltimore City Comptroller-elect discusses plans for the city ]]> The College Democrats at Hopkins (HopDems) hosted newly elected Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry on Nov. 18 to discuss his goals and initiatives.

Henry previously served on the City Council, Biennial Audits Oversight Commission and the Budget & Appropriations, Housing & Urban Affairs, Health and Labor committees. Henry is also a Hopkins alum who graduated with concentrations in urban studies and public policy.

Henry was elected as comptroller in the Democratic primary over Joan Pratt - who served in the role for 25 years - with 54% of the vote. His platform centered on advocating for the public's interests and reforming the budgeting process to be more transparent and accountable to city voters.

During the HopDems event, he reflected on his approach to campaigning. Henry noted that voters were mobilized by his message of bringing change by electing new representatives.

"[It] was a really easy message to give people at the doors, 'Hey, would you like Baltimore City to better? Well, you should elect different people,'" he said. "You can re-elect the person who has been there for 25 years or you can try something new."

According to Henry, Pratt had not performed effectively in the role because she refused to take action.

"I can just be tactful and say the current comptroller, my predecessor, didn't really see being proactive as an important part of her job. She saw herself more as a technician. She saw herself as an administrator," he said.

Henry emphasized how he is going to act differently than his predecessor and be more hands-on in his work as well as take more initiative to enact oversight over the city agencies.

"I'm just taking a very different approach... The predominant responsibility of the comptroller is to make sure the people are being served well by how we're doing things," he said.

Henry detailed that the responsibilities of the comptroller include promoting financial accountability and ensuring the proper management of funds.

"[The comptroller] is the watchdog. The purpose of that job is to keep an eye on the mayor, make sure the mayor is doing good deals on behalf of the whole city not just for the mayor... and keep an eye on city agencies, make sure that they are being as effective and efficient as possible with city funds," he said.

He proceeded to share how his involvement in community activism began when he was an undergraduate student at Hopkins working to mediate issues between the University and neighboring homes and businesses. He placed emphasis on the critical role the University plays in the Baltimore community.

"For all of the perfectly good reasons to be annoyed at the Johns Hopkins administration from time to time, one thing to be happy about is they promote investment in their area and they help to encourage people to invest more there," he said.

Junior and HopDems board member Paul Lam, who helped organize the event, explained why he thought it was important to host Henry in email to The News-Letter.

"This year, HopDems really wanted to give students more exposure to local politics, especially because it was an important election year in Baltimore City," Lam wrote.

Lam also reflected on Henry as a speaker and his optimistic discussion of his plans.

"Councilman Henry was extremely friendly and open and he spoke a lot about his future plans for Baltimore City after he takes office as comptroller," he wrote. "It seemed like he really believed change was going to come to Baltimore City, and I am excited to see what happens."

In an email to The News-Letter, junior Riya Jain, who attended the event, highlighted that she found Henry's views on politics and progress interesting.

"I enjoyed hearing his story as to why he got into politics," she said. "I thought it was really insightful that he took a practical approach to change making. Instead of setting his sights on changing the world, he decided to work on his community."

Chris H. Park, the vice president of HopDems, is a News & Features Editor for The News-Letter. He did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.

At a HopDems event, Henry detailed his plans to reform the role of comptroller.

<![CDATA[Activists discuss barriers to reproductive care in the criminal justice system]]> The Advocates for Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH) hosted an event titled "What's Next? Reproductive and Sexual Justice After the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election" on Saturday, Nov. 21 in partnership with Planned Parenthood's Peer Education Program.

ARSH is a newly founded student group championing reproductive freedom and access to comprehensive healthcare. The organization is affiliated with Planned Parenthood and holds discussions on sexual health education, politics and bodily autonomy.

The event featured two keynote speakers: Kimberly Haven, policy and coalition director for Reproductive Justice Inside (RJI), and Brittany Mostiller, leadership development coordinator at the National Network of Abortion Funds.

RJI is a coalition that shares stories of previously incarcerated individuals who received poor sexual or reproductive healthcare while in custody. The National Network of Abortion Funds aims to make abortion procedures more accessible by removing financial and logistical obstacles and supporting individuals facing racial, economic and reproductive discrimination.

Haven recounted dealing with health issues while she was incarcerated. Her experiences inspired her to lobby for a bill in the Maryland General Assembly that mandated menstrual hygiene products to be completely free and accessible for incarcerated women and girls. Senate Bill 598 was signed into law in October of 2018.

"You are at somebody else's mercy to try to take care of the most basic monthly needs that people have - or in my case, an emergency need," she said. "For me, the motivation to write these policies comes from what I went through, what I saw and what I knew was still going on."

She also highlighted the negative effects on mental health and physical well-being of placing pregnant and post-pregnant women in solitary confinement. RJI also lobbied for a bill that would end this practice, and Senate Bill 629 was signed into law in 2018.

"The way our state and local institutions are set up, at 2 o'clock in the morning, if you screamed, no one would hear you," she said. "We were the first state in the country to pass that legislation, and it is now being replicated across the country."

COVID-19 has not slowed the work of Haven and Mostiller.

Haven stated that RJI is currently planning a multi-state litigation strategy around reproductive issues for incarcerated women. The strategy aims to safeguard the rights of individuals whose futures are ever more uncertain in this time of change.

Mostiller noted that the pandemic has increased the amount of barriers for women seeking abortions. Certain states have enacted anti-abortion bans or deemed the procedure nonessential.

"Reproductive justice is our North Star," she said. "It's so important right now to keep in mind that this isn't anything new; there are [just] different phases and people in positions of power. This is the time to double down on our tactics."

Freshman Juliana Marquez, who helped organize the event, voiced her appreciation for Haven and Mostiller in an email to The News-Letter. She noted that the discussion inspired her to get more involved in generating meaningful change within her community.

"As students, there are a lot of things we can do to advocate for reproductive and sexual health, and we must take advantage of every opportunity to help build an environment of justice, equity and empathy," she wrote. "It was nice to see that our event can inspire students from JHU and high schools in Baltimore to advocate for reproductive justice and health."

Mostiller argued that the reproductive justice movement is not limited to the singular issue of abortion access. Instead, she believes it also encompasses obstacles faced by individuals in terms of housing, employment and education.

Haven echoed Mostiller and emphasized the importance of supporting the leadership of young people, as well as the introduction of fresh perspectives and new voices.

"If something's important to you, if something is wrong, if something shocks the conscience - get involved," Haven said. "Don't be a silent bystander. Because when you're a silent bystander, then you're giving permission for all the things that you see are wrong to continue."


A Planned Parenthood-affiliated student organization hosted activists to discuss barriers to reproductive care.

<![CDATA[How do different vaccines compare biologically?]]> News of the COVID-19 vaccine has been dominating news headlines and giving people around the world a sliver of hope before the end of the year.

On Nov. 20, Pfizer's messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine to file for emergency use authorization (EUA) with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Excitement for Pfizer's vaccine success came days before Moderna's release of efficacy results.

It has been a month of vaccine breakthroughs - on Nov. 18, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford released promising phase two and three data for their chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine. Additionally, Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada are celebrating the reviews of their vaccine developments.

You may have seen headlines declaring Pfizer's vaccine as "90% effective" and Moderna's as "94.5 % effective." Such large percentages may be enough to convince you to receive the vaccine jab immediately, but what does this number mean in terms of efficacy?

Vaccine clinical trials primarily determine efficacy through primary and secondary endpoints. Pfizer stated that its primary endpoint is confirmed COVID-19 cases after seven days following second dose receival, and its secondary endpoint is cases occurring 14 days from the second dose. The Pfizer phase three clinical trial's 90% efficacy rate revealed that participants were protected against the virus for up to 28 days after receiving the vaccine.

While the vaccine race is closely approaching the finish line, it is still too early to know whether long-term immunity from the virus is guaranteed.

We are currently witnessing vaccine development break the boundaries of scientific discovery; over 30 companies have vaccine candidates enrolled in over 50 clinical trials. Researchers are using new technologies and combining them with traditional means to produce a variety of vaccine methods against COVID-19.

The current vaccine strategies can be categorized into four main groups: RNA, DNA, weakened virus and protein-based vaccines. There are similarities and differences across all the candidates, and how they work makes them all unique.

RNA vaccines

Interestingly, both vaccine frontrunners fall into the RNA-based vaccine category. A common misconception for mRNA vaccines is that they directly inject the virus' material into a person. However, the vaccine instead introduces the mRNA of only a portion of the virus, specifically the virus' spike protein.

The vaccine is injected into your arm, introducing mRNA that instructs your cells to produce viral proteins, such as the spike protein. The proteins synthesized from the mRNA will elicit an immune response and produce antibodies. If you were to be exposed to the virus, your immune system would recognize it and produce antibodies to fight off the infection.

One benefit of RNA and DNA-based vaccines is that they can be produced in a matter of days. DNA, however, is more stable than RNA and does not have to be stored at below-freezing temperatures.

DNA vaccines

The mechanism of DNA-based vaccines is similar to a RNA-based vaccine - both prepare the immune system to recognize and fight an intruder. They do so by introducing a genetic code into cells, allowing them to manufacture a piece of the virus.

COVID-19 is an RNA virus, but DNA vaccines are strategic in their approach to target COVID-19. They first introduce DNA into an individual's skin cell. The DNA then instructs the cell to produce antigens encoded by the DNA. Once antigens are manufactured, the immune system is able to produce a strong immune response.

In addition to the popular DNA and RNA-based vaccines, weakened virus and protein-based vaccines have had successes in early phase clinical trials.

Weakened virus vaccines

The Oxford and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine ChAdOx1 is an example of a weakened adenovirus vaccine. The adenovirus was originally known to cause the cold in chimpanzees but has now been genetically modified to be unable to replicate. Oxford has also sequenced the spike proteins on the surface of the COVID-19 virus and introduced this sequence into the chimpanzee adenovirus vector.

The adenovirus vaccine creates a strong immune response - as RNA and DNA-based vaccines do. Once the viral vector is introduced in your body, your cells express the virus' spike proteins. Your body will produce antibodies against the proteins and viruses, initiating an immune response.

Protein-based vaccines

Out of all the main vaccine methods, protein-based therapeutics may be the most strategic. RNA and DNA-based vaccines require that their genetic material enter cells, which subsequently have to assemble parts of the protein in order to elicit an immune response. In contrast, protein-based vaccines offer a direct path to stimulating our immune system.

Protein-based vaccines contain pieces of the viral pathogen that are typically genetically engineered into yeast. An immune response is immediately activated once it is introduced to the body. This cuts several steps that RNA and DNA vaccines require before activating the immune system.

The FDA is planning to review Pfizer's EUA request on Dec. 10 and is broadcasting the meeting on major social media platforms.

With the holidays approaching, a vaccine approval could be the most important gift the world receives. While we patiently wait for a safe vaccine, it is crucial we adhere to public health guidelines and stay safe ourselves.


Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have created, or are creating, four different types of COVID-19 vaccines: RNA, DNA, weakened virus and protein-based vaccines.

<![CDATA[Political Science professor calls for immigration reform in Japan and South Korea]]> The Japanese American Student Association (JASA) held its first-ever speaker event on Thursday, Nov. 19. The event, titled "Ethnic Citizenship Regimes and Co-Ethnic Immigration in Japan and Korea," featured Erin Aeran Chung, a Political Science professor at Hopkins. Chung is the Charles D. Miller chair in East Asian Politics and author of the recently published book Immigrant Incorporation in East Asian Democracies.

Chung noted that while East Asian countries are not typically included in immigration studies and are not considered to have multiethnic populations, there has been a significant increase of immigrants in Japan and South Korea. During this time, Japan and South Korea continued to implement immigration policies which, in her view, create unfair circumstances for foreigners.

According to Chung, this trend has led to the development of "noncitizen hierarchies." She specifically zeroed in on coethnic immigrants, groups such as the nikkei or Joseonjok, who share the ethnicity of their countries but are not born and raised there. They are not necessarily foreigners to the countries they live in but, at the same time are not fully assimilated into the culture.

"There are specific challenges for coethnic immigrants," she said. "They face unique types of discriminatory attitudes and experiences, which go against the idea that as coethnics they would automatically be treated better."

For example, while they received preferential treatment in their ability to secure a visa, they also face discrimination for their differences from the native population.

Language has also been used as a discriminatory tool against coethnic immigrants.During Chung's field research, she interviewed a coethnic person in South Korea who was not given an "honorific," which is typically given to elders. However, a younger person was given the honorific because he was a native Korean.

Responding to these dynamics, Japan implemented a "paid to leave" strategy which gives immigrants a certain amount of money to leave the country. Chung expressed her disagreement with this approach and instead called for cooperation between the government and civil organizations.

"It really has to come from the grassroots level; top-down legislation will not necessarily create harmonious relations," she said. "But at the same time, without structural reforms there are limits to grassroots mobilization. Even the most generous local governments and civil society organizations cannot prevent migrant workers from being deported, facilitate naturalization for foreign residents or guarantee rights."

JASA Event Coordinator Ayaka Inoki echoed the professor's call for changes to immigration policies in an interview with The News-Letter.

"It is important that we attack these issues from the grassroots level so that we can structurally change and implement a more accepting and open-minded policy for coethnic Japanese and Koreans," she said.

Inoki explained that while the main goal of JASA is to focus on Japanese culture, she hopes that the organization can accomplish more.

"On a larger scale, I want others to understand the interconnectedness of the different cultures in the world," she said. "Through JASA's events, I hope students can come to appreciate not just Japanese culture but how all cultures depend and affect one another."

Freshman Arjun Yogaratnam appreciated the Q&A portion of the event.

"This Zoom event in particular allowed for a comparable amount of interaction to an in-person event," he said. "The fact that I could join from the comfort of my home also aided in making the event more accessible."

In an interview with The News-Letter, Chung suggested that students interested in immigration and racial politics should broaden their scopes and focus on nontraditional cases as well.

"Oftentimes when we talk immigration or racial politics, we do it through the prism of the North American and European experiences, which is very helpful for understanding dominant frameworks," she said. "But it falls short in explaining the rest of the world."


JASA hosted Political Science Professor Erin Aeran Chung at its first speaker event.

<![CDATA[University addresses potential impact of COVID-19 spike on spring plans]]> In response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state and an increase of cases within the Hopkins community, University leaders reaffirmed on Nov. 19 that, as of now, in-person, on-campus activities will resume in the spring. Online options for students and faculty will still be available for those unable to return to campus.

In an email to University affiliates, Provost Sunil Kumar and Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Mary Miller stressed that the University is continuing to take the pandemic seriously. The email was sent shortly after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order tightening COVID-19 restrictions.

"If the public health conditions require it, we will not hesitate to change course," Kumar and Miller wrote. "We will continue to put the health and safety of the Hopkins community and our Baltimore neighbors first, but we are also determined to preserve the chance for the in-person activities we all miss."

Kumar and Miller mentioned that despite the increase in cases, holding the fall semester virtually has successfully limited the virus' spread among Hopkins affiliates.

"We have not detected transmission within university workplaces and labs," they wrote. "We are proud of the way the Johns Hopkins community has come together to keep each other safe during this time, and that has helped us maintain a cautious optimism about the prospect of coming together again in January."

Junior Adrian Tabassi, however, questioned whether in-person classes and activities will resume in the spring.

"Coming back on campus with regular testing would be great, but let's see if it actually happens," he said.

Junior Rachel Nie echoed Tabassi's sentiments, noting that the University waited until August to announce that the fall semester would be online. Although she believes that the University has students' best interests in mind, classes could easily switch back to online-only in January, she said, if Maryland's number of COVID-19 cases do not improve.

"Whether you tell me now or whether you tell me in December, I will still be skeptical, just because of what happened this past semester," Nie said.

In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Vice President of External Relations Karen Lancaster stressed that the University is doing what it can to give students options and keep them informed.

"During this time of continued uncertainty and anxiety, we share in your desire for decisions and clarity," she wrote. "We will continue to use every available piece of information available, coupled with our unique public health expertise, to take the most prudent path forward in the best interest of all members of our community."

Kumar and Miller's email also mentioned that the University will still be expanding its asymptomatic testing program.

As described in previous University announcements, starting in January, undergraduate students will be tested for COVID-19 twice per week and faculty, staff and graduate students will be tested once per week. During the fall semester, only residential students had access to asymptomatic COVID-19 tests.

Lancaster explained that this expanded testing will occur regardless of whether spring classes are held in-person.

"We know that many of our students are in Baltimore and will be in the spring regardless of the University's posture," she wrote. "We... hope that increased testing for those living off-campus will help protect our neighbors in Baltimore by limiting the virus' spread in the broader community."

Junior and Baltimore native Yvette Bailey-Emberson told The News-Letter that she supported expanded testing, encouraging the University to push it even further.

"It would be good if they extend testing to Baltimore residents because a lot of people may not be able to get tested without it," she said. "Hopkins has a duty to give back to the community."

In their email, Kumar and Miller also emphasized that in order to come back in the spring, students will need to continue following COVID-19 best practices, including wearing face masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. This includes not traveling for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

"We do not know whether the current increase in cases will continue through the winter or whether the pandemic will again ebb, but we do know that if we don't work hard now to prepare for the spring semester, we will foreclose the possibility of a return no matter what the metrics show then," they wrote. "There is much about the course of this pandemic that we cannot control, and so we all must work hard at those things we can."


Although the University continues to plan for in-person spring classes, some students doubt a hybrid semester will actually happen.

<![CDATA[Fauci uses the history of coronaviruses as a guide for the present and future]]> In late January, within days of the identification of SARS-CoV-2, Dr. Anthony Fauci co-wrote a paper titled "Coronavirus Infections - More Than Just the Common Cold."

"I chose the title not because I wanted to be facetious, but because I wanted to point out... that we've had decades of experience with coronaviruses over the years," he said.

Fauci speaks not just about the history of the field of infectious diseases, but also from personal experience. He has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than three decades and is considered the nation's top infectious disease specialist.

He shared his expertise in a keynote address at the latest Medicine Grand Rounds as part of the "COVID-19 Symposium at Hopkins: Navigating the pandemic when effective vaccines are in the toolbox" on Nov. 20.

Fauci opened his talk with a reminder that the current pandemic is the third human coronavirus pandemic that we have experienced. The first two were also in the 21st century: the 2002 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the 2012 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Although SARS and MERS barely affected the U.S., in the current pandemic, the U.S. is the worst-hit country in the world.

The high rates of infection, according to Fauci, can be attributed to high levels of mobility; in mid-March, a higher percentage of the U.S. population continued with in-person work activities compared to European countries. Small get-togethers with friends and family may also be to blame.

"I call up many of my colleagues throughout the country to get a feel of what is going on in the trenches," he said. "We have come to see that in small gatherings of friends and family where people feel comfortable to take masks off or gather inside because it is cold... the risk [of infection] is substantial because asymptomatic spread does occur."

Fauci described asymptomatic spread as a surprise of the pandemic. About 40-45% of infections are due to transmission by asymptomatic people. This transmission is one reason that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised people not to gather for Thanksgiving.

While the high rates of transmission are concerning, several COVID-19 vaccines are in the development pipeline. Although the newly developed vaccines have demonstrated high efficacy, Fauci reminded the audience that COVID-19 will likely not be eradicated. People typically don't exhibit long-term immunity to coronaviruses, like the common cold. Instead, he expects that people will need to get vaccine boosters periodically. Current vaccine trials will monitor patients up to two years to examine the durability of the antibody response and to determine the timeline of vaccine boosters.

Dr. Andrea Cox, a professor at the School of Medicine, expressed her concern that the current focus on developing vaccines for COVID-19 hinders the development of treatments for other diseases.

"Will COVID-19 vaccine design strategies potentially affect the development of vaccines against other major global viral killers like HIV and the Hepatitis B virus infections?" she asked.

Fauci explained how early in the pandemic, the NIH decided to allocate major investments toward the development of an mRNA vaccine. The investments were criticized given the novelty of the technique. But the investments paid off. Within 63 days of uploading the sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to a database, not one but two companies, in two separate trials, verified the efficacy of a mRNA vaccine.

"I think that mRNA-based vaccines and other avant-garde technologies are here to stay," he said. "And I think it's going to help us in developing vaccines against other diseases, including HIV."

Dr. Annie Antar, assistant professor in the School of Medicine, pointed out that the vaccines currently in trial have not been tested or approved for children. Children are a vulnerable population, and special care has to be taken to protect them from toxicity and other adverse effects. Vaccines are approved for children only after it is fully approved for adults. Fauci explained that there would be a delay, but he didn't expect it to be a long one.

The discussion shifted to vaccine distribution. Dr. Thomas Quinn, director of the Hopkins Center for Global Health and a member of Fauci's lab, asked about the state of vaccine distribution efforts across the rest of the world.

Fauci explained that companies like Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have already pledged to make billions of doses of vaccines, enough for nations outside the United States. He also stressed that he believes that the U.S. is duty-bound to contribute to vaccine distribution efforts across the globe.

In particular, he highlightd the COVAX initiative led by the World Health Organization, the European Commission and France. The U.S. is not currently contributing to the program, but Fauci hopes that will change.

"We as a nation have a moral responsibility to be a part of the process of making sure that people get vaccinated regardless of where they were born," he said. "Since it's a global problem and we are part of the global community, we have a responsibility."

In his paper "Emerging Pandemic Diseases: How We Got to COVID-19," Fauci reflects on how pandemics have been a part of human history and always will be. To prevent widespread devastation in the next outbreak, he believes that we must take the lessons from this historic pandemic to heart.

"Let us maintain our corporate memory and remember the need for pandemic preparedness as we get through this ordeal," he said. "Then we can look forward to preventing this from happening again."


Fauci believes that the development of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 will embolden pharmaceutical companies to create avant-garde treatments for diseases like AIDS.

<![CDATA[Panelists discuss how to optimize vaccination rates]]> The COVID-19 Symposium, held by Hopkins Business of Health Initiative (HBHI), featured a segment titled "Financial incentives and disincentives for achieving optimal COVID-19 vaccination rates" on Friday. A panel of experts in the fields of behavioral sciences, public health and economics discussed barriers and strategies to maximize COVID-19 vaccination rates. The discussion was moderated by Mario Macis, professor of Economics at the Hopkins Carey Business School.

Alison Buttenheim, associate professor of Nursing and Health Policy and scientific director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, explained the current situation from a behavioral scientist's view. Buttenheim categorized the 50% of the population who might refuse to receive the vaccine into three groups.

The first group is the anti-vaxxers, who have exerted a strong presence through social media despite being a relatively small group. Unfortunately, due to their strong and unwavering beliefs, it is unlikely to convince them to receive the vaccine.

The second group consists of 20 to 40% of the entire U.S. population who are hesitant about the newly developed vaccine and are vulnerable to misinformation.

The third group is those who are neutral or motivated to take the vaccination yet there exists a gap between their intention and behavior.

Professor Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, raised additional difficulties the field of public health is facing to encourage vaccination.

Salmon described how there is significant mistrust in the government and public health institutions. However, this mistrust did not arise due to COVID-19. Instead, it has been deeply rooted in the society before the pandemic, with one out of three parents hesitant about vaccination.

"[The mistrust] speaks to how pervasive these issues were in the society before COVID," Salmon said.

Daniel Polsky, Bloomberg distinguished professor of Health Policy and Economics and director of HBHI, listed financial obstacles in obtaining the new vaccine.

Polsky described how vaccines purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be offered free of cost to Americans, but not all vaccines are purchased by taxpayer dollars. Additionally, an administration fee may apply. While the administration fee may be covered with health insurance, reimbursement through health insurance or a relief fund may not fully cover the costs.

After identifying societal barriers, the panelists introduced strategies dedicated to reaching a high rate of vaccination.

Although little can be done to change the mind of anti-vaxxers, behavioral science strategies can still focus on the two other groups to convince them to receive vaccination. Buttenheim suggested that communication tactics are helpful in this case. The goal is to send the U.S. population a message expressing that vaccination is an easy and safe process.

"We want to make this as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated. We want this to be a zero-friction, zero-hassle, zero-cost process," Buttenheim explained.

In addition to the clarification on the vaccination process, Buttenheim also recommended making vaccination a social norm. Specifically, she suggested having public figures - chief executive officers, mayors and celebrities - receive the vaccine to lead a trend favoring vaccination.

She described how just as "I voted" stickers are a public incentive to vote, "I vaccinated" stickers can become a signal for participation in social good. Health agencies can also take advantage of the supply limit of the vaccine. As people put more value on things that are harder to obtain, this mentality could be utilized to prompt precommitment to vaccination.

However, Buttenheim recognized that tests, results and strategies for different target groups are necessary before a final plan can be established.

"It's an exciting time to be a vaccine-acceptance researcher and a behavioral scientist. [I am] looking forward to that challenge," Buttenheim added.

In contrast to Buttenheim's optimism, Salmon believes that a mass-communication campaign will not be sufficient enough to solve the problem. Instead, different strategies and messages need to be directed towards communities.

"We need to know what the population thinks about the disease and about the vaccine. We need to know how it varies by some population. We need to know what credible sources are among those subpopulations. And then we need to know how to message within those individual areas," Salmon concluded.

In order to resolve the problem of possible costs for the COVID-19 vaccine, Polsky stressed the importance of sufficient reimbursement through health insurance companies. Also, more relief funds are needed to abundantly cover the uninsured 30 million individuals in the United States.

"We want to make payers accountable for adequate reimbursement rates, especially in harder-to-reach places," Polsky said.

Robert Litan, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, proposed a backup plan.

Litan proposed that the federal government needs to provide financial incentive for vaccination. This proposal would theoretically only come into play when all the other strategies described fail to produce an effect.

In his proposal, all individuals would receive $200 at the time of vaccination. An additional $800 would be given after the required coverage of vaccination in individual communities for herd immunity is reached.

$1,000 per person for 60 to 70% of the entire U.S. population is a significant number. However, Litan argues that this money distribution is in fact a "booster shot" for the economy. The goal is to return society back to normal as soon as possible.

Some raised concerns that a financial incentive might suggest to the public that the vaccine is dangerous. Litan replied that with a large enough disbursement, the population can hopefully ignore the risky signal.

"We all know from the proverb that it is much easier to get people to change their mind through honey rather than vinegar. The honey is the financial incentive," Litan said.

The four panelists identified barriers and solutions through their various fields of expertise. Interestingly, all four panelists agreed that no matter which method is taken, a larger federal budget is required to incentivize the public to vaccinate.

<![CDATA[SGA discusses bringing electric scooters to campus]]> The Student Government Association (SGA) discussed bringing electric scooters to campus at its weekly meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Dave Reed and Daniel Phonelath, representatives from the electric scooter-sharing company Spin, gave a presentation outlining a possible partnership between their company and the University. Spin currently provides electric scooters to over 20 college campuses and 70 cities, including Baltimore, offering locals an alternative way to get around their neighborhoods.

If the University partnered with Spin, 10 to 15 electric scooter charging and parking hubs would be installed on campus. Students would be able to use these scooters either for a fee or with University subsidies.

Currently, electric scooters are not allowed on campus. When electric scooter services were first introduced to Baltimore in 2018, they were initially controversial. Since then, they have become more normalized and are currently used off-campus by many students as an alternative to public transportation and ridesharing apps.

Senior Class President William Cho pointed out that students might not have much use for electric scooters on campus.

"I would imagine that the reason why the administration didn't respond is because our campus is very small. You can walk from the two polar ends of it in 12 minutes," he said. "A lot of our students live off-campus, and that's where the need for Spins would be... Those charging ports would be better located off-campus."

Reed clarified that Spin has not had any serious engagement from the University yet despite sending several introductory emails.

He argued that this relationship would be beneficial to the University because, aside from providing scooters to students, advertising on the charging hubs would provide extra revenue to SGA and the University.

"This is a no-cost investment for Johns Hopkins and the student government. It actually is a revenue generator," Reed said. "Any advertisements would be University-approved. We would also yield about 25 to 30% of the screentime to University messaging."

Reed argued that installing charging hubs would limit the clutter of having electric scooters on campus and would also be more environmentally sustainable.

Senior Class Senator Ananya Kalahasti noted that the campus is not very conducive to scooters.

"There are very few people who don't have to climb or descend at least one flight of stairs to go between two classes," she said. "To take a scooter you'd effectively have to go all the way around instead of just taking the fastest path between classes."

Senior Class Senator JJ Tie also expressed concerns about introducing electric scooters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's still a lot of uncertainty involving the pandemic and the public health situation," she said. "What if we go fully online last minute? What is Spin doing to ensure public health in terms of sanitizing the scooters?"

Reed emphasized that Spin is doing what it can to keep its scooters COVID-19-safe.

"Anytime that someone from our team... is servicing a scooter, they're sanitizing it," he said. "We've got a lot of enhanced protocols as compared to pre-pandemic."

Kalahasti believes most students would not bother to use scooters even if they were provided.

Reed argued that despite these issues, Spin could still be a useful resource to students on and around campus.

"Our goal is not to replace walking trips. Our goal is to be a complement to existing services," he said.

Reed explained that while Baltimore does not allow charging hubs to be placed on public property, off-campus hubs could potentially be placed if private property space was provided.

Junior Class President Nathan Mudrak pointed out that while scooters may not work well at Homewood Campus, other University campuses could use them.

"We are all coming from the Homewood Campus. When we think of Hopkins, there are other campuses, some of which might be more amenable to scooter use," he said.

Cho also worried that price barriers would inhibit some students from using the service.

"I'm very interested in the subsidizing aspect in terms of accessibility for people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Not all students have the ability to 'Spin,'" he said.

Cho stressed that if a partnership was established, steps would have to be taken to make the scooters affordable and accessible to the entire student body.

Junior Class Senator Megan Chien said that she liked the idea of electric scooters, especially if they were able to help students off-campus. She noted that they could be very helpful to students with limited mobility.

"As someone who has torn their ACL, it is very difficult to get to class if you can't walk anywhere. I used to have to call security to drive me to my classes, and I even ended up dropping a class because I just couldn't make it, physically," she said.

Executive President Sam Mollin suggested setting up a meeting between Spin, SGA and administrators to discuss how a partnership might work.

During the meeting, Freshman Class President Kobi Khong also presented a special forum proposal in response to accusations that the Delta Phi (St. Elmo's) fraternity is drugging students at parties. Khong stressed the need to have a formal discussion about Greek life's disregard for University policies.

113 students signed a petition in support of holding the special forum. However, since these signatures were collected improperly and there was no way to prove that they were authentic, the proposal was tabled.

In an email to The News-Letter, Mollin explained that SGA was working to verify the signatures.

"We are taking steps to verify all signatures and ensure we get a vote on this proposal as quickly as possible," he wrote. "Over one hundred students expressed a desire to have this forum, and we take that seriously."

According to Mollin, if the signatures are verified in time, SGA might hold a brief general body meeting over Thanksgiving break to vote on the special forum.


Electric scooter sharing company Spin has approached SGA and the University to discuss installing charging hubs on campus.

<![CDATA[China-U.S. technological relationship: Time for a divorce or continued cooperation?]]> Over the years, China's growing global influence as an autocratic country has strained the political and economic relationship with a democratic United States.

Hal Brands, a professor at the Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies hosted a discussion with two affiliates from the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory - Richard Danzig, former secretary of the Navy and Christine Fox, former deputy secretary of defense - to discuss a series of reports concerning China-U.S. technological connections.

The discussion explored how the worsening relationship, accentuated by the pandemic, impacts the exchange of technological advances between the two countries.

Fox believes that China's successful handling of the pandemic positions it to accomplish significant economic and social progress.

"I am concerned about China's global aspirations in terms of influence. We need to pay attention to the fact that China dealt with COVID and saw it as an opportunity to advance their objectives globally," Fox said.

The hesitation to share technological advances stems from the possibility that countries are using their control of information and network to coerce their rivals. In particular, the panelists mentioned the lack of U.S. leadership in 5G technologies compared to Huawei, the biggest technological company in China.

"China has been using the COVID-19 response and Health Silk Road to bring Huawei capabilities all over the world, and then through that, to also get data and to advance their particular preference for their system of governance," Fox said.

The spread of 5G is one example of a possible wider state of vulnerability for the United States. While some argue that the two countries should refrain from being interdependent on each other, experts agree that it is impossible to become self-sufficient.

China has become very intertwined with the rest of the world, including the United States. According to Danzig, it will be difficult for either country to extricate themselves from the close, albeit tense, relationship.

"One might ask at square one: 'Can you unscramble eggs and would it be beneficial to do so?' I believe that it would be remarkably costly, both in dollars and in capabilities," Danzig said. "China and the U.S. are like a quarrelling couple who has to share a house."

Taking into consideration both the political uneasiness between the two countries and the near impossibility of cutting ties with China, Fox and Danzig stressed the importance of balancing effective communication and interdependence with the protection of American national security.

"I believe that you can't be so in love with the desire for cooperation that you sleight the real abuses that China has been involved in, while on the other hand, you can't be so outraged at those abuses that you lose track of what you need to do to cooperate," Danzig said.

The best plan, according to the panelists, involves prioritizing international technological advancements for the benefit of the world.

"I think the challenge is to understand how technology advancements can benefit the international community, and then separate out those aspects of it that are troubling us from a national security perspective," Fox said.

To some, this might seem destabilizing. The sharing of technological information might put the U.S. at an even more vulnerable position. However, Danzig commented that this sharing of information contributes to a relationship that is vulnerable for both the U.S. and China.

"We're trading the advantages that we gain for the disadvantages that we experience," Danzig said. "We're not going to be pristine in this relationship, and they're not going to be pristine in this relationship. But fortunately, being pristine is not a prerequisite."

To maximize the advantages while minimizing the disadvantages, the panelists said that the U.S. should deliberately and carefully examine technological research field by field. For some areas of research, like COVID-19 vaccines, the pros of cooperation outweigh the cons. For others, like 5G and Huawei, it's the opposite.

"It's very appropriate to look in detail at individual technology areas," Danzig said. "But when you get done with that, you also have to realize that while technology is important, the most fundamental question is going to be the character of the relationship."


Huawei's leadership in developing 5G technology exposes a vulnerability in the technological dominance of the United States.

<![CDATA[Students navigate Thanksgiving amid a pandemic]]> As COVID-19 cases spike across the country, Hopkins students must strike a balance between adhering to safety precautions and spending time with loved ones. Students who have spent the semester in off-campus housing in Baltimore are coming up with ways to celebrate Thanksgiving safely.

At other universities, asymptomatic testing is automatically provided or even required before students travel home for Thanksgiving break. Because the University did not have in-person activities this semester, Hopkins did not provide this service. However, many students had already signed leases to live in Baltimore when the University switched to online-only fall plans.

The University's COVID-19 call center tests only students who are (or report to be) experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have had potential exposure to someone who has tested positive. Students' academic advisors and on-campus employers are notified when the school orders a test, possibly deterring some students from choosing to be tested through the school.

Though it was not widely publicized, the University held free walk-in testing on Friday, Nov. 20 at Shriver Hall for all students, regardless of exposure or possible symptoms.

According to senior Charlotte Quinn, the tests were self-administered, and it is unclear when results will be available.

"I was hoping to have a negative test result to show to my family before I even got on the plane," she said.

When she called the testing center to obtain more information, an administrator told Quinn that her results could be ready in two to three days. Quinn, who has been tested through normal University procedures once before, expected results to come in the normal six to 12-hour time frame.

In addition to testing, students are doing their best to take other precautions to mitigate the potential health risks to friends and family.

In line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that emphasize the relatively low risk of driving, many undergraduates living off-campus will be driving home in lieu of flying.

Sophomore Daniel Gindi will be driving from Baltimore to New Jersey for the holidays, which is about a three-hour drive without traffic.

Given the ease of the trip, Gindi does not have many concerns about catching the virus on the way home, especially since he and his fellow roommates have been following social distancing guidelines this semester.

Senior Mia Boloix, on the other hand, has a longer journey ahead. Boloix and her boyfriend will be making a 17-hour trip from Baltimore to Miami, Fla. over the course of two days.

Boloix explained that driving to Miami felt safer than flying in an email to The News-Letter, though she noted it is not entirely risk-free.

"I definitely think we feel safer driving, but we are still really cautious because we have to use rest stops in southern states where mask mandates may not be enforced as seriously," she wrote. "As we saw on our way up to Baltimore, the difference can be really striking!"

The distance may also determine if students will come back and who will stay home for the rest of the semester. While Gindi will be returning to complete finals from his off-campus home in Baltimore, Boloix will remain in Miami at least through the winter holidays and possibly until the spring semester.

For others without on-campus cars or those who would have to drive cross-country, flying is the only option.

Olin Shipstead, a senior from Southern California, will be taking a flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles. Shipstead will repeat some of the same measures that he took before boarding a flight to Hopkins, such as wearing a mask and wiping down seats and tray tables.

Shipstead has the added benefit of participating in the Hopkins-run epidemiology study to determine the frequency of COVID-19 in the undergraduate population living in off-campus housing. Throughout the semester he has been tested for COVID-19 twice per week, giving him greater peace of mind before heading home this semester.

Still, for others, at-risk family members and other circumstances may outweigh the benefits of visiting family at a peak travel time.

Junior Elisa Herrera will be spending Thanksgiving in her Nine East apartment. From Florida, Herrera decided that it would be best to stay put this year given that she did not want to be at home for the rest of the semester through finals period.

Herrera stated that she chose to stay in Baltimore to protect the health of her family.

"I didn't want to put my family at risk because I understand that my age group can very easily be asymptomatic," she said.

Instead, Herrera plans on celebrating the holiday with her roommate. They will be preparing their own Thanksgiving meal, though they will not be attempting to cook a turkey.

The CDC has recommended that students get tested and quarantine for 14 days before entering into family member "bubbles." If this is not possible, wearing masks, staying outside and social distancing can help to reduce the risks of travel and keep everyone safe during the holiday.


Students living in Baltimore weigh and mitigate the risk of travel to see their families for Thanksgiving.

<![CDATA[Applying to medical school during COVID-19]]> When Valerie Gomez, a senior Molecular and Cellular Biology major, planned to apply to medical school in the fall of 2019, she felt anxious about how she would manage the interview process. Typically, attending so many interviews would force her to miss class days and spend a large amount of money on travel.

In a bittersweet twist of fate, this application cycle has little resemblance to the one Gomez envisioned for herself a year ago.

The road to medical school has never been an easy one, but this year's applicants have faced a cycle unlike any other. According to a poll conducted by Kaplan, most schools have made their admission process more flexible in response to the school closures, test cancelations and shutdowns that took place in the spring due to COVID-19.

These changes include accepting pass/fail grades and taking a "holistic review" of applicants who may have struggled to fulfill clinical experience or other extracurriculars due to social distancing guidelines.

As a result of the increased accessibility of the application, the number of applicants has risen 17% from the previous year, meaning that this flexibility will in no way make the cycle a less competitive one.

According to Sondra Rahmeh, a Biomedical Engineering major who graduated in 2019, one of the biggest differences between this year's cycle and the one she expected was the number of people who applied without scores due to delays in Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) administration.

While the Graduate Record Examination and Law School Admission Test are offered to students online this year, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) decided to continue the requirement that the MCAT be taken in person due to test security and equity concerns.

Rahmeh's in-person MCAT date in May was canceled, and she sat in an online queue for two hours before getting it rescheduled.

When she finally arrived at the testing center, Rahmeh reported little to no social distancing protocols, a pattern that has been corroborated by reports at testing centers across the nation.

Even with the extension on MCAT submission offered by most medical schools, Rahmeh was still forced to apply without knowing her score.

Rahmeh also expressed concern about the virtual interview process and how it was difficult to compare to a similar in-person experience. With virtual interviews, informal interactions with current students and social events are more difficult to replicate, meaning that the different schools can very easily blend together.

"It's been very difficult to get a sense of all the different schools with just a Zoom interview," Rahmeh said.

In response to interviews becoming virtual this year, some medical schools also used the Video Interview Tool for Admissions (VITA) system to learn about applicants. This one-way interview tool asks applicants to submit videos answering a certain question within an allotted time-frame.

"That was also very nerve-wracking because the best part of an interview is you can get some feedback from a person," Rahmeh said.

Given the novelty of the program, it is yet to be determined how VITA performance would affect an applicant's chances of admission.

Gomez also acknowledged that virtual interviews were not what she expected, but for her they ended up being a "blessing in disguise."

"In one week, I had three interviews in a row and they were all in different states, so I would not have been able to go to all three [otherwise]," Gomez said.

Interviews are just one aspect of the application process that has become more accessible to prospective students. In 2020, the AAMC's Fee Assistance Program increased the maximum income of students qualified for application waivers from 300% to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Both Gonzalez and Rahmeh argued that the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced their interest in the medical profession, even with the risks involved.

Rahmeh mentioned that the pandemic has shown her how doctors are not as trusted by the public as she initially believed.

"It made me think a lot more about what exactly a physician's role is within the community," she said. "It has a lot more to do with education and public health than I believed."

Gomez also contemplated the role of physicians in light of current doctors' sacrifices to fight the surge of cases in the United States.

"This is something that could very possibly happen when you are a doctor, and it didn't scare me," she said.

Having been accepted to medical school, Gomez has one piece of advice to share with future applicants: Don't fall into the trap of comparing your profile to others.

"If you're putting in all the work, and you feel that you are ready, go for it," she said.

If Gomez could muster the courage to apply during one of the strangest cycles in modern history, then anyone who sets their mind to it can do so as well.

Correction: This article originally referred to the company which conducted a poll of medical school admissions process as Kaplan Test Prep. The name of the company is Kaplan.

The News-Letter regrets this error.


Many medical schools have adapted to challenges caused by the pandemic.

<![CDATA[Trying to cultivate healthy habits during quarantine]]>

Over the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time editing articles that have focused around the theme of joy. I'm not just saying this so that I can plug The News-Letter's fall magazine, though you should definitely check it out - take even five minutes out of your day to read or watch one of these pieces and I guarantee it will brighten your day.

A natural result of reading about what is bringing other people joy in these pretty troubling times is to reflect on what brings you joy. I've found that in this adapted virtual world that we've been living in since March, I've definitely been reaching for some familiar favorites. I've been baking a lot, drinking many cups of tea and making my best effort to complete Netflix before the semester's end.

However, I've also turned to new things. One very faint silver lining that I've discovered out of all of this is that I have a decent amount of free time to put toward (mostly) healthy habits.

For the last three years I have been trying, and failing, to find any sort of exercise routine. Before coming to Hopkins, I had always been involved in sports teams, and so I had a routine built in for me. When I came here, I very much felt like I was in the middle of that college octagon or decagon of getting good grades, sleeping enough, having a social life, eating healthily, being involved in extracurriculars - the list goes on. Seemingly there's always something that has to give, and for me the first thing to go is always exercise.

This semester though, I haven't been able to fill every spare moment with extracurriculars or seeing people because that simply isn't feasible or safe. More free time coupled with two weeks of quarantine when I arrived in Baltimore in August meant I could add in something new from the octagon.

I forced myself to have some sort of routine so I didn't just slowly lose my mind, and that definitely helped set me up for the rest of the semester. I've got into the routine of exercising four times a week, and like many people, I (re)discovered yoga during lockdown, which I do two or three times a week as well. I know that's not super impressive, but for me it's been a vast improvement on anything I've ever managed to do during a semester at Hopkins. There have also definitely been weeks that I've missed, but the beauty of having a routine, as my roommate so wisely told me, is that I now know that I can do it and can easily get back into it.

I have a calendar on my wall that my sister gave me for Christmas, and as there are very few events to put into a calendar anymore, I give myself a little tick every time I workout. Yes, I really have made myself a star chart for exercise.

The best part of all of this for me is that, with gyms closed and my inability to run for anything other than a bus, I've started to exercise purely for fun. After being a cox in high school and exercising for the purpose of losing and maintaining weight, I decided to stop weighing myself when I got to college. There's always been a small part in the back of my head, though, that viewed exercise purely as a way of changing or "improving" my body - thank you, mainstream media, for that one.

But now that I see few people and spend most of my time in leggings and sweaters, what my body looks like matters even less than it did before. I've been able to rethink my approach to exercise and see it as a fun way of relieving stress and doing something my mind and body will thank me for, rather than as a way to change something about myself that doesn't need to be changed.

During quarantine I tried out a bunch of different workouts. I tried Instagram barre workouts and following YouTubers doing weights with tins of beans, high intensity yoga and circuits. I was Goldilocks searching for the workout that was just right, both for me and also the small space I was working with.

Eventually I discovered a few YouTubers doing dance high-intensity interval training. I did ballet and tap until the age of 11 and have always loved dancing, even if I'm not good at it now at all. Spending half an hour to an hour channeling my inner Ginger Rogers and working out to Mamma Mia!, The Rocky Horror Picture Show or even the Shrek soundtrack is the ridiculous, lighthearted relief that I need right now.

I know that some people are actually far busier now than they were before the pandemic. But I can confidently say that in three years I had not worked out before class once at Hopkins, and if classes were in person that would still probably be true. While I definitely have busier weeks, having established a routine means that I can still fit things in,and this is definitely easier given that most aspects of my life now take place in my 267-square-foot bedroom. I think it's okay to take the small wins when you find them, and for me this is one of them.

It's important right now to take care of your mental and physical health in whatever way you can, and for me that apparently now means dancing around my bedroom to One Direction. I hope you find whatever that is for you.

Amelia Isaacs is a senior from London studying English and Writing Seminars. Her column consists of general life musings and occasionally explores the mostly weird but often wonderful experience of living on this side of the Atlantic.


Isaacs was a cox in high school.

<![CDATA[How the pandemic has impacted my perspective on medicine]]>

I'm spending my entire freshman year at home, taking classes virtually. My social life is a fraction of what it was a year ago, and that's saying something. While I didn't imagine the pandemic would last for so long, I knew it would disrupt my plans.

But I didn't anticipate that the pandemic would change the way I envision my future career path. Since middle school, I had firmly believed that I would be a doctor. I've spent hours researching medical school admissions, trying to figure out what I need to do in college to achieve my goals. Now that I'm here, COVID-19 has shaken my confidence in my dreams and has left me contemplating what those goals should really be.

I'm not doubting whether medicine is the right path for me because I'm disappointed in doctors but, rather, because it's frustrating to see their efforts and expertise continuously undermined. Harmful myths, such as COVID-19 being engineered in a Chinese laboratory, persist. "Anti-maskers" have organized rallies against state mask mandates. Our own president mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask just a month ago.

It's disheartening to see that so many people in this country don't trust the advice of medical professionals, but I can't even begin to comprehend the frustration of the health-care workers themselves. Their patients have called COVID-19 a "hoax," have refused testing despite presenting symptoms and have demanded hydroxychloroquine as treatment for the virus. Doctors and nurses are working around the clock to extinguish a nationwide fire, putting themselves at risk daily to save those pouring the gasoline.

Although it's certainly beginning to feel like it, I know this pandemic and the conspiracy theories that came with it won't always be around. But Americans' lack of confidence in doctors will be. One study found that, from 1966 to 2012, the proportion of Americans who said they had "great confidence" in leaders of the medical profession dropped from 73% to 34%. I know that it's a doctor's responsibility to build trust with their patient, but the trend of the public's declining confidence in medicine seems too large for any one physician to tackle.

Even when Americans do trust their doctors, they're often rewarded with astronomical costs. About a third of American workers have some type of medical debt. Despite the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act, the pandemic has left some Americans facing thousands of dollars in medical bills. I have to ask myself: Do I want to be a doctor in a country where recommending life-saving treatment could mean burying my patients in debt?

Another factor worth considering is mental health. The pandemic has left health-care workers feeling helpless and drained, and these aren't unfamiliar emotions for them. The overall burnout rate among physicians is 42%, though it can be even higher for some specialties. Male doctors' suicide rates are up to 40% higher than the general population. For female doctors, they can be up to 130% higher. By helping patients improve their health, it seems doctors may sacrifice their own.

It would be easy, maybe even a relief, to point to this list of reasons not to become a doctor and decide to give up. I have plenty of good excuses right here, and I didn't even mention medical school tuition. And, admittedly, when someone asks if I'm pre-med, my "yes" seems a little more hesitant these days. Yet it's difficult to forget the ways this pandemic has left me in awe of health-care workers, wondering how soon I can become one myself.

Physicians came out of retirement to fight against COVID-19, even when they themselves belonged to a vulnerable population. Nurses traveled from hotspot to hotspot, making hotel rooms their homes as they offered help where it was most needed. These sacrifices shouldn't have been necessary, and health-care workers deserve more than a simple acknowledgment of their heroism. But I'd be lying if I said their selflessness wasn't inspiring to me.

I think, if anything, this pandemic has removed the rose-tinted glasses through which I viewed medicine before. I had been so focused on the hurdles to becoming a doctor that I wasn't considering the challenges of being one. I don't know what my path will look like in the next few years, but I'm not writing off medicine yet. You'll just have to ask me how I feel after taking Organic Chemistry.

Abigail Tuschman is a freshman from South Florida majoring in Writing Seminars. Her column documents the ups and downs of her unusual first year of college.


Tuschman finds Americans' lack of confidence in health-care workers disheartening.

<![CDATA[Learning to be a daughter again]]>

A puzzle piece went away, rolled around on different surfaces, grazing and bumping and came back with slightly different nooks and crooks. The curves aren't quite the same and some parts had been left behind, chipped off. The rest of the puzzle board welcomes the returned piece; they missed her. What happens if the puzzle piece doesn't fit? Well, she tries anyways, but other pieces dig into her side and she does the same. Nothing's intentional but it still hurts and they can't back out now. They come from the same puzzle board. They are inseparable.

On one summer day of 2014, I boarded a plane headed to the United States. For six years after that, I have lived in dorm rooms, with occasional and brief stays at home during the breaks. Although my connection with my parents remained strong (we called almost daily which is probably more than I'd have talked with them had I lived at home), I had slowly forgotten what it meant to be a daughter. Sure, I know the definition in the dictionary, but a human relationship is more complicated than that.

Student. That had been my label. I am a student, and that was my purpose. Boarding school, and now college, made it easy for me to live in a bubble and disregard my other roles: a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a lover, a writer, a dog-owner. Perhaps it was only natural for me to experience a storm of emotions and confusion when I came back home last March due to the pandemic and had to stay home.

Upon returning from school, I came back to my childhood bedroom, which felt much smaller. I opened my closet to unpack but found that it was already crammed with old clothes that I didn't have the time to sort out. I scanned the room for space. I realized I probably thought everything in my room was necessary at one point. Now, I'm reminded of their presence by stumbling into them accidentally. Truth be told, I would have lived on fine without my film camera from middle school or that jacket I bought several years ago. In fact, I completely forgot about them until I came back.

Turns out, they weren't the only things I forgot about.

The first week back home is what I call a "honeymoon period." It had been several months since my family and I saw each other, and it was simply nice to be together. Small actions or words that have the possibility of starting an argument or unpleasant disagreement are swatted aside and ignored. But after the first week, everyone meets their limit. It becomes time to bring those complaints up.

The problem is this: I have lived for myself for too long, and my parents forget that I am no longer 14.

Boarding schools take pride in teaching their students the necessary skills to cohabit with others, to cooperate, to be ready for college. Yet, the same system also provides and takes care of everyone equally, leaving the students to forget that there are responsibilities in life other than playing in a team sport and following a given set of dorm rules. When I came home, I had to relearn many things: to take my dogs on a walk, to understand what their yelps or pawing mean, to recycle (the right way) and some Korean slangs and expressions. But most importantly, I relearned how to be a daughter.

Somehow, there have been millions of small things that had to be adjusted and discussed over the past eight months. Mostly it was me remembering that even though I am an adult, my parents still wanted me to tell them what I did and where I went. In some ways, I felt like I was taking a crash course, specifically on what happened in our family while I was away, what changed and what remains the same. It took me several weeks, if not months, to get comfortable with living in accordance with my family's life rhythm.

At first, I felt more comfortable acting solo; my parents and my sister were more like my flatmates. If I was hungry, I ate. If my friend wanted to meet up, I forgot to ask my family if they had other plans for us. These things seemed small, but they piled up quickly and created miscommunication. While I was frustrated at first, and so were my parents, this was an opportunity for us to catch up before it was too late.

Yes, our mutual understanding for each other has taken several arguments and tearful nights. However, I am glad I have been reminded that I am not just a student but also many other things and, in particular, a daughter. While studying sure has its exciting moments, it certainly adds dimensions to life to go back to having multiple roles.

Elizabeth Im is a junior studying Cognitive Science. She is from Seoul, South Korea but she is currently residing in Jeju Island. Her column discusses various topics that she has the chance to ponder and reflect upon during her gap semester.


Spending more time at home has prompted Im to relearn how to be a daughter.