Preparing for a COVID-safe spring

| January 14, 2022
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Note: This letter originally appeared as an email sent to the Hopkins community on January 14, 2021.

Dear Johns Hopkins Community:

We continue to look forward to the beginning of the spring semester on Jan. 24 and are working to resume a broad range of in-person academic, research, and other activities as safely as possible. Two years into the pandemic, we know the strain on our community is great and that coming together in person is vitally important to the well-being and progress of our students in particular. As always, we are carefully considering how best to sustain the safe environment we’ve been able to create on our campuses throughout the pandemic.

As you know, the data suggest that omicron is more easily transmissible than other variants of the COVID virus and that it progresses more quickly but typically results in less severe illness and fewer hospitalizations—particularly among those who have been fully vaccinated, including booster doses. Those characteristics, as well as the near universal rate of vaccination within our community, make the surge we are experiencing now different from the one we faced a year ago. In response, we are taking the following steps:

  • Masks. We will require the use of N95s, KN95s, or a combination of a cloth mask with a surgical mask. A cloth mask alone or a surgical mask alone will no longer meet the university’s mask requirement. School of Medicine affiliates will continue to follow Johns Hopkins Medicine’s masking policy. We will distribute a variety of mask types at numerous locations around the university, on all campuses, beginning next week. Whatever kind of university-approved mask you use, the most important thing is to wear it consistently and properly—with a tight fit and covering both the mouth and the nose.
  • Booster mandate. We are glad to see so many of you getting ahead of our Feb. 1 deadline for booster shots. Boosters offer significant protection against omicron, and we urge you to get yours as soon as you are eligible. Information about on-campus booster clinics and how to sign up for a shot is available on the JHU Coronavirus Information website. Once you get your booster, you must register it in the Vaccine Management System, even if it is registered in MyChart.
  • Testing. In order to catch COVID cases more quickly and reduce the likelihood of outbreaks on campus, we have increased to twice a week our current mandatory testing requirements for undergraduate and graduate students who will be on campus, and we encourage faculty and staff to take advantage of our on-demand asymptomatic testing, which is available at a wide variety of locations across our campuses. Directions on scheduling an appointment through MyChart are available online.
  • Return tests for undergraduates living in residence halls. In addition to the increased testing above, undergraduates living on campus will be required to test immediately upon their arrival and to quarantine in their rooms until they receive a negative result. Students arriving the weekend of Jan. 21-23 will be given a rapid antigen self-test so that we can be assured that they will get their results in advance of the first day of classes on Jan. 24. Details will be sent to undergraduate students in a follow-up message.
  • Academic flexibility. While we remain committed to a full return to campus and onsite instruction, we anticipate that both faculty and students may face challenges in maintaining academic continuity during the next two weeks as we return to campus and resume testing. It is important that we all treat one another with empathy and understanding, and in some circumstances exercise flexibility in how we maintain teaching and learning. Our divisions will provide temporary adjustments as needed to faculty whose ability to teach in person is impacted by the pandemic, owing to circumstances such as unexpected school closures and other child care disruptions, the need to care for family members, etc. Faculty will continue to take steps to support students in keeping up with their coursework if they are required to isolate or quarantine.
  • Hybrid and remote work for staff. Thanks to your adherence to public health measures, our campuses remain safe, but we recognize that this is a challenging time for many members of our workforce in terms of managing the personal and family disruptions of the pandemic. For that reason, we will extend the period of increased workplace flexibility (announced on Dec. 31) until Feb. 7, at the discretion of each division. To the extent that staff can perform some or all of their work remotely, subject to departmental or divisional approvals, they may do so, and we extend our continued gratitude to all those employees who are and have been working in person during this time.
  • Isolation housing. We have substantially increased our inventory of isolation housing compared to last semester, and we have adjusted our protocols to ensure we are prioritizing its use to house those undergraduates whose living situations put them at most risk of spreading the virus to others. Undergraduates living in residence halls are our first priority because congregate living often makes isolation in place difficult. Undergraduates living off campus are no longer required to isolate in university-provided housing; such housing cannot be guaranteed for off-campus students but may be made available if inventories allow and considering the student’s individual circumstances. Depending on conditions, students may be required to isolate in their rooms.
  • Quarantine. Consistent with CDC guidelines and the advice of our own experts in public health and infectious disease, fully vaccinated (including a booster) individuals are no longer required to quarantine after a meaningful contact. Those students who are required to quarantine (e.g., those who have received a vaccine exception or are not yet boosted) will do so in their own rooms or residences, even in shared living situations.
  • Contact tracing. Because omicron appears to develop and spread more quickly than previous variants, our existing manual system of contact tracing is less effective. Instead, we have adopted an automated system in which those who test positive will fill out a form listing their close contacts, and those close contacts will then be notified by email.
  • Dining facilities and events. We will move to grab-and-go service at our residential dining facilities, and special permission will be required for all nonacademic indoor events of 50 people or more through Feb. 6. Grab-and-go food at events is suspended during this period.

COVID is a serious and exhausting challenge, but it is important to emphasize how much better prepared we are to face the virus now than we were when it first emerged almost two years ago. The steps you have taken—vaccination, mask-wearing, testing and more—have contributed immeasurably to the safety of our community and to our ability to meet our mission of education, research, and service. At this time of higher community prevalence, we ask you to be particularly careful to monitor yourself for symptoms and to stay home and get tested if you are sick. We thank you for your continued diligence in the weeks ahead.

Stay safe and be well,

Stephen Gange
Professor and Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs

Jon Links
Professor, Vice Provost, and Chief Risk Officer

Kevin Shollenberger
Vice Provost for Student Health and Well-Being
Interim Vice Provost for Student Affairs