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Administration Rolls Out Reopening Plan

Anushree Vashist ’21 Lead News Editor
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge America, schools across the nation have adapted to new learning environments.
While most of the nation’s largest public school districts are continuing fully remote instruction, many Connecticut schools have reopened to some extent. Hopkins has started the 2020-21 school year with a Hybrid Model; students are divided in maroon and grey cohorts, with each group spending a week at a time on campus. In order to implement such a plan, the administration made multiple health and safety accommodations. 

Head of School Kai Bynum created eight task forces to create and maintain an effective hybrid model that addresses safety and learning challenges alike. According to Director of Medical Services and Head Athletic Trainer for Sports Medicine Don Bagnall, “The tasks forces look to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Science Journal, State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, medical contacts, and consulting school physicians.” Bagnall also says that Task Force chairpersons continue to meet regularly about every two weeks; to quote Assistant Head of School John Roberts, “there’s plenty of issues to be considered and decisions to be made for the weeks and months ahead!”

Plans for Reopening commenced at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Roberts notes that “the premise coming out of Memorial Day Weekend was that we were going to try to do a hybrid, a population reduction strategy.” After considering the feedback of parents, students, and faculty alike, the administration determined that while the entirely remote strategy of the Spring provided a “good basic academic experience,” students missed the human connections of being physically on campus; thus, administrators sought to bring the community back on the Hill. The resulting hybrid model took into consideration the advice of epidemiologists; it created what Virologist Ian Mackay calls
“The Swiss Cheese Respiratory Virus Defence” in which multiple precautions like mask wearing, distancing, disinfection, and hand-washing come together to limit disease transmission. 

Making physical adaptations to the campus is essential to reopening a school. According to the
Keeping Hopkins Healthy website, “Student and faculty workspaces have been redesigned to provide for proper distancing. Furniture in classrooms has been reduced and reconfigured, and large tables have been moved to storage and replaced with single-person desks.” Roberts explains that this separation reduces the need to contact trace community members adhering to community health guidelines. Physical distancing is especially important during lunch periods when students and faculty are unmasked; according to Keeping Hopkins Healthy, students are to refrain from speaking when eating indoors. 

Air filtration is vital as well.
To quote Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health Ashish Jha, “If an organization does ‘deep cleaning’ as a primary strategy to keep people safe, they aren’t being serious. Sure do the basics. But focus on airflow. Less on surfaces.” By this definition, Hopkins is taking some measures to limit transmission. Thompson Hall, Heath Commons, Malone Science Center, and Calarco Library, which have central HVAC systems, contain Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV)-13 filters. They can capture particles between 0.3 and 10 microns in size and, in non-pandemic times, are traditionally used only in medical and manufacturing spaces. These newer buildings also have a Basic Automatic System (BAS) that, according to Director of Facilities Liz Climie, are “programmed to perform air purges at night after the cleaning company leaves campus.” She continues, “When everyone comes onto campus in the morning, the air in those buildings will have been ‘exchanged.’” Throughout the day, the grounds crew opens outside dampers on the ducts to allow fresh air to flow. Older buildings like Baldwin Hall do not have central HVAC systems. Faculty and staff are instructed to keep doors and windows open throughout the day to allow air to circulate. Furthermore, “almost every room on campus has a HA13 HEPA filter,” according to Climie. “For maximum efficiency and safety, these units should be turned on each day and run for eight hours at medium speed (high if the noise can be tolerated).” 

It should be noted that HA13 Hepa filters and MERV-13 filters
do not eliminate the risk of disease transmission. The coronavirus is spread through person-to-person contact; thus, virus particles can be transmitted before a filter can capture them

Mask wearing is generally required at all times on campus. According to studies like
Science Advances-published paper, “Low-cost measurement of face mask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech,” have addressed the relative efficacies of different mask types. The Hopkins mask-wearing policy reflects this: “Only 2-ply (or higher) cloth or paper masks with loops will be permitted, and all masks must fit snugly. Gaiters, bandanas, masks with valves, and single-ply masks may not be used on campus.” Not published on the Reopening Plan website is the medical exemptions that select faculty receive from wearing masks. Bagnall explains these accommodations are made “via the proper channels” and that “[b]arriers (portable) are available for use [and] additional social distancing in the classroom and mask use for others add a layer of protection.” The CDC does not currently have any recommendations regarding adequate substitutions for a mask. The Connecticut Department of Public Health, while allowing schools to “develop specific policies regarding what they will consider as acceptable exemptions from the wearing of face covering masks by students or staff while inside the school building,” mentions that such cases are “rare” and “generally limited to individuals suffering from severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as might be seen with cystic fibrosis, severe emphysema, heart failure, or significant facial burns that would cause extreme pain or interfere with the healing of a skin graft.” This reopening schools guide goes as far as to say that such conditions are “rare in students or staff capable of presenting to the school for work or instruction” and “for anyone suffering from any of these underlying conditions, the strong recommendation would be for that person to remain at home and engage in fully virtual learning due to their risk of developing severe complications if they did become infected with COVID-19.”

All students and adults employed at Hopkins must complete an eight question medical screening through the Magnus App everyday prior to arriving on campus. According to Bagnall, the school selected Magnus because, despite “some growing pains with the App,” it is part of the school system (students health records are in the same platform) and is “a useful check-in to ensure a person is in general good health prior to coming to campus.” Bagnall specifically elaborated on the app keeping “individuals who are feeling unwell home for non-COVID-19 reasons” and “pick[ing] up on some travel issues, which resulted in conversations to keep our community safe.” Some have noted the
minimal effect of screening in containing the virus and, while Bagnall agrees these concerns are “in some respects...true,” he believes the Magnus questionnaire “serves a purpose” and that “most people are appreciative of the screening to provide them with some security, in what is an insecure time in our lives.”

Contact tracing is key to limiting disease transmission once a community member has tested positive for the disease. Some faculty and staff have volunteered to perform this crucial service; they completed the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Contact Tracing Program and work with contacts at the City of New Haven Department of Health. Bagnall says, tracing happens by “using schedules, and gathering [information on] close contact by the positive individual (within 6 feet and for more than 15 minutes).”

While the school can monitor students’ behavior on The Hill, it has limited jurisdiction in supervising their adherence to public safety guidelines off campus. Roberts admits that, “every holiday, every weekend, everything is a concern so we’re absolutely holding our breath and hop[ing] people are smart and careful and good because it won’t take much.” These concerns are evident in the
plans for the Thanksgiving and Winter Holidays released on October 16; after each vacation, one week of fully remote instruction will occur to allow for isolation after travel. To prevent disease transmission when students are not at school, Bagnall urges them to, “wear a mask as much as you can when outside the home [and] keep socially distant, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer as necessary.” He also recommends limiting gatherings and monitoring health conditions, even when not physically present at school. “You are not only protecting yourself, but your friends, relatives and the faculty/staff at Hopkins among others.
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