Spring planning update

December 8, 2020

Dear Faculty, Students, and Staff, 

We are watching with concern the continued high level of COVID cases locally and nationally and anticipate further increases related to holiday travel and gatherings. Within our own community, we are seeing a significant rise in cases as well, among students, faculty, and staff. Our case-by-case investigations have shown that most have been the result of non-Hopkins/off-campus transmission, but last week we reported to the state a cluster of six positive cases within a specific nonlaboratory, nonclinical workplace on the Homewood campus, and we will be tightening precautions within that unit to ensure our employees’ safety. 

Even amid these troubling developments, we are continuing to prepare for the increase in on-campus activity for the spring semester that we announced in November. We have learned a great deal in the last few months about how to maintain health and safety in a campus environment during the COVID pandemic—indeed, we still have not detected transmission within our research labs, even as we have increased the level of activity within them over the course of the fall—and we remain cautiously optimistic that we can resume more in-person activity in late January. We are not alone; some of our peers have also recently announced plans for increased on-campus activity in the spring, and those that already had significant on-campus activity in the fall are generally remaining in that posture.  

Public health is our top priority, and as we have indicated before, we will not hesitate to change plans if necessary to keep our community safe. We remain committed to making a final determination about the spring semester no later than early January, but we also know that if we do not continue our focused planning and preparations for a return to campus, we will foreclose the possibility of reopening. 

To that end, we are making final refinements to our detailed return to campus guidance, which we anticipate publishing in mid-December. We are moving forward with efforts to increase our asymptomatic testing capacity, and making alterations to our campuses to safely accommodate more faculty, staff, and students:  

  • Testing for asymptomatic faculty, staff, and trainees in Johns Hopkins Medicine will be available beginning the week of Dec. 14. We anticipate that we will begin to offer, at locations on each campus, asymptomatic testing for Johns Hopkins University faculty, staff, and students who will be on campus in early January.
  • A committee of students, faculty, and staff has been working to expand this fall’s student compact to include all campus constituencies in a mutual commitment to taking the necessary steps to keep our community safe. We plan a campaign in support of the compact in January. 
  • Work is underway to expand our campus COVID dashboard to include more metrics, including a breakdown of positive and negative tests by division. 
  • On the Homewood campus, we are erecting a 9,000-square-foot structure on the Freshman Quad to provide appropriately ventilated, de-densified, and climate-controlled space for studying and other activities.  

During the next few weeks, we will be watching a variety of key public health metrics locally and nationally, and we will consult frequently with our Health Advisory Group, a panel of Johns Hopkins University’s foremost experts in the emerging science of COVID. We are also closely monitoring the encouraging news about the development of COVID vaccines, but because they are unlikely to be ready for mass distribution until the second quarter of 2021, they do not factor into our immediate plans for the spring semester. 

During the next few weeks, as you make your own plans for the spring, there are a few things we ask you to bear in mind: 

  • We are actively exploring alternative scenarios for increased activity in the spring, even if conditions do not allow us to continue with our current plans. Options include a delay in increased in-person activity or additional limitations on in-person coursework and other activities, with public health and academic needs driving our considerations. 
  • Even if we change our spring semester plans, we will still offer expanded asymptomatic testing for JHU affiliates who will be on campus. 
  • Regardless of the level of in-person activity we are able to conduct, alternatives to 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 remotely. 
  • 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. 

Above all, we ask you to take care of your own health and that of your family and friends. The most important thing we can all do to create the conditions for a safe return is to follow the guidance of the JHNeedsU campaign: Wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, wash hands frequently, and monitor yourself for possible COVID symptoms. During the holiday season, it is especially important to avoid large gatherings and unnecessary travel. 

As this difficult year comes to a close, we are mindful of the terrible toll COVID has taken on our communities, but we are also proud of the leading role Johns Hopkins University has played in the local, national, and global response to the pandemic. It is in that spirit of innovation and determination, always with data and science as our guides, that we move forward in hopes of coming together again in person as a Johns Hopkins community this spring. 

Stay safe and be well, 

Stephen Gange
Professor and Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs

Jane Schlegel
Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer