As Johns Hopkins is accelerating in-person learning and other activities for the spring semester, it does so with operational and safety plans developed over the months by dozens of university leaders in consultation with students, faculty and the staff.
These plans are based on conversations with the university’s own public health experts as well as on key information gleaned from peer institutions that have successfully and safely conducted limited in-person instruction during the fall term. . These peers – Cornell and Duke in particular, along with nearly 20 other universities – have used a combination of routine surveillance testing, meticulously developed public health protocols, community outreach and compliance, and adaptability to navigate during the fall semester with minimal transmission of COVID-19.
While the number of new coronavirus cases remains high across the country, Johns Hopkins management remains confident that its own carefully considered plans and preparations will ensure a safe return to campus for students, faculty and staff at the spring semester courses.
“As public health professionals ourselves, we are of course very concerned about how the pandemic has continued to spread in Baltimore, the United States and around the world,” said Stephen Gange, professor of epidemiology, executive vice president for university affairs and one of the university’s operational planning leaders amid the coronavirus pandemic. “However, we believe that the additional tests and measures we put in place for this spring will add to our already strong public health precautions to prepare the campus for a limited and measured expansion of activities on campus. experience here at JHU and among our peers has been that these measures have been effective in the campus setting so far. Because they are based on basic public health principles to identify and interrupt transmission, we hope that ‘they will continue to be effective as we head into a difficult semester. “
“If we need to make changes, we are ready to do it quickly. ”
Professor of Epidemiology and Executive Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs
To detect cases of COVID-19 and limit the spread, the university has set up nine campus sites for large-scale asymptomatic and symptomatic surveillance tests – five on the Homewood campus and one each on the campus of East Baltimore, Peabody Institute, Carey Business School, and School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC Over 9,000 tests have been completed in the past seven days, including over 2,500 tests on a single day of the week last.
JHU’s testing plans share a lot of commonality with the testing protocols used at Cornell, where testing was essential when the university resumed campus operations in the fall. Cornell set up eight campus sites for routine testing of students, faculty, and staff, who were asked to register and schedule their tests in advance.
And it worked. Cornell had not recorded any COVID-19 transmissions in the classroom as of the fall, a testament to the effectiveness of its testing efforts combined with classroom safety measures such as masking and distancing. Overall, compliance testing among Cornell students during the fall semester was over 98%, and compliance among staff was over 95%, another factor in the school’s success, a said Gary Koretzky, vice-president of academic integration at Cornell University, professor of medicine. at Weill Cornell Medicine, and one of the leaders in Cornell’s operational planning efforts in the midst of the pandemic.
“I think the ease of testing combined with people going there to get tested – which makes people understand that we really mean it – really made the community embrace it,” said Koretzky.
That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of anxiety at Cornell, where a few small clusters of COVID-19 linked to student social gatherings have caused a critical shift in approach. School officials have shifted to an adaptive testing model – expanding an individual’s circle of potential contacts beyond those defined as close contacts to identify further positive cases and limit the spread. Koretzky cited this change, adopted at the start of the fall semester, as a “key factor” to the school’s success.
Gange said that as campus activities intensify at Hopkins, the university will carefully monitor the compliance and effectiveness of security measures and, if necessary, change its approach, potentially increasing the frequency of testing or imposing restrictions on course attendance. Plan, analyze, adapt.
“If we have to make changes,” he said, “we are ready to do it quickly.”
Adaptability is a natural by-product of the near-constant conversations and assessments conducted by college planning committees across the country, even a year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States. identified a positive case, asking what the university could do differently or better, were integral to a successful approach.
“We are ready and we have every reason to believe that we can do it safely and efficiently.”
Professor of Public Health, Vice-President and Chief Risk and Compliance Officer
The same goes for Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration at Duke and one of the leaders in his COVID-19 response. He also acknowledged that robust testing, student compliance, aggressive contact tracing, and the use of single rooms for residence students all contributed to a safe and successful fall semester. Duke performed nearly 180,000 tests from August 2 to November 20, identifying 241 positive cases among faculty, staff and students, and had no transmission incidents in the classroom.
“Overall, I think our faculty and students think the semester went as smoothly as possible,” Cavanaugh said, “given the difficult circumstances.”
With students returning to the Hopkins campus and the university ready to teach in person this week for the first time since March 2020, Johns Hopkins will undoubtedly face its own set of challenges. An estimated 88% of undergraduates – some 5,000 students – are expected in Baltimore at the start of the semester, including nearly 1,500 in individual residences on the Homewood campus. Some faculty and support staff will also return, joining researchers and others already using the campus spaces previously reopened in Phase 1.
But even as those numbers increase, university leaders believe their extensive preparations and protocols, coupled with routine testing and a commitment by the Hopkins community to following best public health practices, will allow safe expansion of business on the campus.
“In essence, our peers were running a variety of natural experiments when they opened for the fall with combinations of controls that we had in place and were considering,” said Jon Links, professor of public health, vice-president and JHU Risk & Compliance Manager. . “So hearing their experiences informed our own decisions about control measures, including the specific design of our asymptomatic testing program.
“Ultimately, however,” he added, “the decision to move to Phase 2 was based on our own assessment of conditions and operational readiness. We are ready and we have all the reason to believe that we can do it safely and efficiently. “