Note: This letter originally appeared as an email sent to the Johns Hopkins community on January 8, 2021.
Dear Johns Hopkins Community,
As promised this fall, we write today to confirm our plans for a careful expansion of in-person activities for the spring semester, with a few modest adjustments, based on our thorough assessment of the COVID pandemic and our extensive preparations to keep the Johns Hopkins community and our Baltimore neighbors safe.
With our shared commitment and dedication to following best practices in containing the spread of the virus, as well as the added support of a broad-based COVID testing program, we believe we can prudently and safely move to a more extensive on-campus experience for the spring semester.
We are closely monitoring the pandemic’s continuing impact, locally and nationally, and we are mindful of the possibility of a post-holiday spike in infections and the emergence of new variants of the virus. Yet we also see reasons for cautious optimism.
A significant post-Thanksgiving surge did not materialize in our area to the extent feared. Further, our experience this fall, as well as those of peer institutions that conducted on-campus activities, clearly indicates that COVID infection can be managed in a university community with proper procedures, precautions, and a mutual commitment to each other’s health and safety.
We have experienced little or no transmission on campus to date, even in the context of resumption of lab-based research, and peers have demonstrated similar effectiveness in preventing spread in classrooms. Additionally, we know that thousands of our students were in Baltimore during the fall semester and will be here in the spring regardless of our operating posture and have thus far avoided any significant outbreaks due to their diligence in following COVID safety practices in their daily lives.
The central elements of our plan are summarized below, and the full details can be found in our updated Return to Campus guide.
In brief, courses will begin as scheduled on Jan. 25. All classes for Homewood undergraduates will remain online until Feb. 1, at which time any in-person classes at Homewood will shift to that modality. In addition, undergraduate students will be permitted to participate in in-person research starting Feb. 8.
Testing will begin on the Homewood campus and elsewhere on Jan. 11, and move-in and orientation for undergraduates living in Homewood residence halls will begin on Jan. 16 as planned. We expect Homewood undergraduates who will be participating in on-campus activities to arrive in Baltimore by Jan. 22. This plan, along with the one-week delay in the in-person component of Homewood undergraduate classes, will allow at least two weeks between the holidays and arrival on campus and will ensure that all undergraduates meet the requirement of at least two negative tests, appropriately spaced apart, before taking part in on-campus instruction or other activities.
Plans for in-person instruction at the Peabody Institute and in our graduate and professional programs vary, but all will conform to university health and safety standards, including for minimum mandatory testing, as well as relevant divisional policies and plans. Each division will communicate separately about when any in-person instruction will begin.
This plan reflects a modest but important increase in the on-campus experience for our students. Based on faculty interest and pedagogical need, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering will be offering 18% of their undergraduate courses in person this spring, allowing 45% of their undergraduate students to take at least one class in person. In addition, we will open up 50% of our on-campus residential capacity to first- and second-year students, accommodating 26% of our Homewood undergraduate students. Approximately 62% plan to live in the surrounding area, and 12% have told us they do not plan to come to Baltimore. As a reminder, all undergraduate students in Baltimore will be subject to mandatory testing at least twice weekly, and all activities will be conducted at a reduced density and in compliance with state and local requirements and public health guidelines.
Undergirding all these efforts will be our sustained commitment to keeping one another and the broader Baltimore community safe and healthy.
To that end, a dedicated group of students, faculty, and staff has worked to develop the Johns Hopkins Social Compact, a document outlining our mutual responsibility to each other to follow all best practices for preventing the spread of COVID. We are deeply committed to the principles and requirements of this compact, and urge you to pledge your support as well.
Return to Campus Plans—Spring 2021
Academic and Co-curricular Programming
Course offerings for undergraduates will include a mix of in-person and online/remote classes. Most of our graduate divisions are also planning to resume some portion of their own on-campus activities, or have done so already, and they will continue to provide information directly to their students about academic and research opportunities.
On-campus instruction will be conducted in classrooms prepared for distancing, ensuring at least 6 feet among students and instructors. With these protections and our expanded testing program in place, our aim is to align fully with our peers that opened successfully this fall and did not experience cases of COVID transmission related to classroom instruction.
As a reminder, our in-person experiences this spring will be optional for faculty and students in most divisions, and a system of accommodations and adjustments remains available for staff for whom a requirement to be on campus presents extra risks. To the greatest extent possible, courses that are provided in person will also be available virtually, and students will be able to maintain their academic progress regardless of whether they are taking courses on campus or online. We are also working to ensure that opportunities exist to participate remotely in co-curricular experiences. Some additional staff will be required to work on campus in support of instructional, research, and residential activities, but many will continue to work remotely until further notice.
COVID Testing and Other Health and Safety Protocols
When you return to campus, you will find a robust program for COVID testing—including mandatory twice-a-week tests for undergraduates and once-a-week testing for many other students, faculty, and staff members—along with extensive contact tracing operations to help us identify and isolate those who contract the virus, and thus reduce its spread. As previously noted, we have the capacity to strategically increase testing frequency if conditions require it.
We are closely monitoring the occurrence and spread of important new COVID variants, especially the more contagious ones recently detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom, and we will conduct our own genetic sequencing in samples from positive cases. We are prepared to adjust our control measures and operating posture if these variants significantly influence public health conditions and transmission within the Johns Hopkins community.
To reduce the risk of the virus’ spread, we have made alterations to the campus, ranging from enhanced ventilation in all our classrooms to new spaces and outdoor seating for physically distant activities. Our residence halls will be de-densified, the seating areas of our campus dining facilities will be closed, and our labs will continue to operate at the reduced levels of occupancy that have helped keep our researchers safe since the summer.
All those coming to campus will be required to use the Prodensity app for test results and to monitor their symptoms, wear face coverings at all times, and avoid large gatherings.
Commitment to Baltimore
Central to our decision making is our commitment to the safety and well-being of our city. We believe strongly that our community and Baltimore neighbors are better served by our maintaining close contact with students who are in the area and providing them with regular asymptomatic testing. This expanded testing program is additional and will not impact the testing capacity available in the Baltimore community or our hospitals’ and other care facilities’ ability to serve those in need during the pandemic.
Of note, although we do not anticipate that most of our students, faculty, or staff will receive the COVID vaccine in time to affect our spring plans, it is being rapidly deployed to our front-line health care workers, which is a great source of comfort. It is not yet clear what role, if any, the university will play in vaccinating our non-clinical faculty, students, and staff, but we will continue to communicate with you as plans develop.
The Path Ahead
We know that so many of you are eager for the opportunity to be together in person, particularly our first-year undergraduates who have not yet had the experience of being on campus with their classmates. We also recognize the continued apprehension that attends daily living during this time.
As we have from the outset, we will always put public health first, and continue to consider the complex set of factors and data available to us in frequent consultation with our faculty, student and staff advisory committees and national and local public health experts. If we have to change our plans, we will. Yet if we all devote ourselves to careful adherence to best practices and the well-being of our colleagues, friends and neighbors, we can complete the spring semester safely together.
We know there will be difficult days ahead as we continue to struggle to contain this pandemic. Thank you for all you are doing to care for yourselves and one another, and for all you serve.
We wish you a safe and healthy new year and look forward to seeing you soon,
Ronald J. Daniels
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration