Johns Hopkins University is revising its safety protocols ahead of the start of the spring semester as it prepares to resume a broad range of in-person academic, research, and other activities as safely as possible amid the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, university leaders said Friday.
The most noticeable change is to the university's masking requirement: JHU will now require the use of N95s, KN95s, or a combination of a cloth mask with a surgical mask. In other words, a cloth mask alone or a surgical mask alone will no longer meet the university's mask requirement, wrote Stephen Gange, professor and executive vice provost for academic affairs; Jon Links, professor, vice provost, and chief risk officer; and Kevin Shollenberger, vice provost for student health and well-being and interim vice provost for student affairs in a message to the JHU community on Jan. 14.
"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," the administrators said. "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."
Affiliates should upgrade their masks ASAP, and a variety of masks will be distributed at numerous locations around the university, on all campuses, beginning next week. School of Medicine affiliates will continue to follow Johns Hopkins Medicine's masking policy.
With a near universal rate of vaccination within the Hopkins community, the current surge is different from the one facing JHU a year ago, when spring courses were held online, Gange, Links, and Shollenberger wrote. They outlined key precautions in their message beyond the new masking requirements, including:
- a booster mandate with a Feb. 1 deadline
- twice weekly testing for students and on-demand asymptomatic testing for faculty and staff
- requiring undergraduates returning to residence halls to immediately test and quarantine in their rooms until receiving a negative test result
- academic flexibility for both students and faculty who may face challenges during the next two weeks as they return to campus. To that end, increased workplace flexibility will continue for staff until Feb. 7 at the discretion of each division.
The university has substantially increased its inventory of isolation housing for students compared to the fall semester. It has also adjusted quarantine protocols in line with CDC guidelines and Johns Hopkins public health experts' advice and will no longer require students who are vaccinated and boosted to quarantine after a meaningful contact.
Other changes include a pivot to an automated contact tracing system allowing those who test positive to fill out a form listing close contacts who will then be notified by email. Grab-and-go meal service will resume at residential dining facilities, and special permission to serve food will be required for all non-academic indoor events of 50 people or more through Feb. 6.
Additional details will be sent to undergraduate students in a follow-up message, and the community is encouraged to visit covidinfo.jhu.edu for updates.