Monitoring the rise in COVID cases

November 19, 2020

The last few weeks have seen a worrisome rise in COVID cases in the Baltimore region and nationally. Maryland has set records for the number of daily new cases, and we have experienced an increase in positive COVID tests within the Johns Hopkins community as well. The increase in hospitalizations and deaths, in Maryland and nationally, is a terrible reminder of just how serious this pandemic is, and of the great care we must all take to keep ourselves and our community safe.

During the last week, both Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young have tightened restrictions on workplace and public activities and discouraged travel to or from most states. We want to reassure you that Johns Hopkins will continue to follow all state and local COVID safety regulations and executive orders, as well as the advice of our own experts in public health and infectious diseases.

We have remained in Phase 1 of our operations throughout the pandemic, and our posture continues to be largely virtual with limited on-campus, low-density activities. Those practices have been effective in limiting the spread of COVID within the Hopkins community, and despite the recent rise in cases, we have not detected transmission within university workplaces and labs. At this time, we are not making any changes to our policies on campus activities, but we will continue to monitor the situation and will announce any changes that become necessary.

Even during this rise in cases, we are continuing our planning for a resumption of some in-person activity on our campuses this spring, should public health conditions at the time allow it. The fact that we are making those preparations does not, however, mean that we have decided to open up no matter what. If the public health conditions require it, we will not hesitate to change course.

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. 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.

We will present our detailed Return to Campus guide in December and will make a final determination of whether we can safely carry out our plans in early January, if not sooner. As that process continues, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • If we do have to change plans for the spring semester, that doesn’t necessarily mean fully remote operations. We will consider a range of options, prioritizing public health while trying to meet academic needs.
  • We know that even if we maintain a remote posture this spring, many of our students will remain in Charles Village and elsewhere in Baltimore, and so we will be expanding our asymptomatic testing program to help protect our community and our neighbors regardless of the ultimate level of spring on-campus activity.
  • Alternatives for on-campus presence will remain for faculty and students this spring. Students who cannot or do not wish to return to campus will be given opportunities to continue making academic progress.
  • Faculty and staff members who can work remotely will continue to do so until further notice. The university offers accommodations and adjustments as warranted to those for whom in-person work presents extra risks to themselves or others.

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. That means following all the best practices for limiting the spread of COVID—wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance, avoiding large gatherings, monitoring for symptoms, and practicing rigorous hygiene habits like frequent hand washing. All affiliates should get vaccinated against the seasonal flu, and it is required of all those on campus as of this Friday, Nov. 20. Those who witness non-compliance with campus COVID safety regulations should report it through the SPEAK2US hotline (1-844-SPEAK2US). And regrettably, we should all avoid travel and large gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

For the university, doing everything we can means developing all the policies, practices, and resources that would be necessary for greater in-person activity this spring. 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.

Stay safe and be well,

Sunil Kumar
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Mary Miller
Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration