Amid coronavirus fears, Maryland colleges get conflicting signals on decisions to change plans for large events

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As the new coronavirus spreads, difficult decisions are being made, in Maryland and around the world, to close some public gatherings and bar the public from other events. Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday drew a line between the decisions made by officials at two Maryland universities.

In a Friday news conference, Hogan said he concurs with University of Maryland, College Park officials who said athletic games should be kept open to the public although people are concerned about the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.


“We don’t think in general there is a reason for cancelling large events unless there is a particular set of circumstances,” Hogan said Friday while giving an update on coronavirus cases in the state. “The University of Maryland made their own decision [to hold games with spectators present] which I think was the right decision.”

Hogan did not have praise for the way another area university handled a similar situation.


He said Johns Hopkins University made an independent decision to bar public attendance at the opening rounds of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament at Goldfarb Gymnasium on the Homewood campus.

“Hopkins made a decision on its own,” the governor said.

The three people in Montgomery County — the first confirmed cases in Maryland — who tested positive for COVID-19 this week were on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River, Hogan said.

The three — a couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s — are currently isolated in their homes and their symptoms are abating, officials say.

In contrast to the governor’s comments, University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in a Friday statement that college leaders should not rule out altering plans for “large gatherings,” including sports events.

“Where large gatherings can be canceled, postponed, or taken to an online environment, that is what I am asking campus leaders to consider,” Perman said in the statement. “I am not issuing a mandate, but I am advising that we be smart, and apply our best judgment to a situation that is changing hourly.”

The University of Maryland is part of the University System of Maryland, but Johns Hopkins University is not.

A spokesperson for University of Maryland, College Park said, “The University of Maryland continues to be in regular communication with county and state health officials on our response and preparedness for COVID-19. Sunday’s men’s basketball game will be held as scheduled, and we will continue to closely monitor this evolving situation to assess all campus activities.”


Maryland men’s basketball head coach Mark Turgeon was asked March 2 about safety precautions regarding travel with his team. “We get an email all the time from the university once a day. ‘No cases, this is what we’re doing, if you feel this way this is what you can do,’ ” he said.

Johns Hopkins University spokeswoman Karen Lancaster said the university did not make the decision to exclude spectators from the tournament lightly and recognizes “the disappointment it may have caused for players, families and fans.”

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The decision was “based on input from Johns Hopkins experts in public health, infectious diseases, and emergency management and guidance from public health officials,” Lancaster wrote in an email to the Sun. “The CDC has posted guidance regarding large gatherings, and we consulted with the Maryland Department of Health as we made a holistic assessment of the situation and all available information.”

Given that every event has its own specific set of circumstances and factors, “in this case, we concluded that it was not prudent to hold a multi-day indoor event drawing several thousand visitors from multiple geographies, including at least one where there were confirmed cases of COVID-19, and in light of the evolving information about the just-confirmed cases in of Maryland,” Lancaster wrote.

A student at Yeshiva University, whose team took part in the first tournament game, tested positive for the virus, a discovery that led the school to close its main campus in New York.

Lancaster added that Hopkins plans to evaluate “each large-scale university event, including athletic events, on a case-by-case basis, and we expect most events to continue as scheduled.”


As of Saturday, a total of 44 Marylanders have been tested, with 41 negative. The state stopped listing the number of pending tests online Saturday.

The respiratory disease has sickened more than 100,000 across the globe and killed more than 3,300.

Baltimore Sun reporter Daniel Oyefusi contributed to this report.