2020 began for Emory as most new years do — with the excitement of students returning for the start of the spring semester, the anticipation of coming together for campus events, and the promise of new discoveries and knowledge.
But on March 11, 2020, everything changed.
That's when Emory leaders sent an email message to all students, faculty and staff, informing the university community that spring break would be extended for an extra week, then all classes would transition to remote learning, starting March 23.
In a matter of days, students moved out of residence halls to learn from home, faculty transitioned to teaching remotely, and many staff members began telecommuting — all while researchers and health care providers pivoted to help the world address the threat of the novel coronavirus. And when some were able to carefully return to Emory's campuses for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, it was to a very different environment.
Combined with Emory's biggest COVID-19 headlines, these photos tell the story of an extraordinary year, as students, faculty and staff met unprecedented challenges with resilience and resolve.
Please note: Photos are best viewed horizontally.
The weather may have been rainy, but students were all smiles Jan. 14, 2020, greeting friends and professors on the first day of spring semester classes for undergraduates.
Jan. 21: The first case of the novel coronavirus is confirmed in the United States.
Jan. 24: Emory launches its first webpage with coronavirus updates for the campus community, which later becomes the comprehensive Emory Forward website. To date, Emory Forward has received more than 1.7 million page views.
Jan. 24: The Emory News Center publishes its first article about the illness that will later be known as COVID-19: "What you should know about the new coronavirus."
On Feb. 22, acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni gave a free public reading at Emory's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts — sharing poems and stories, then signing hundreds of autographs for attendees. It would be one of the last big community events held on campus.
March is typically a busy month at Emory, as students return from spring break and warmer weather provides the perfect opportunity for studying and socializing outside.
But this year, Emory's campuses were quiet after the growing pandemic led the university to announce on March 11, 2020, that it would extend spring break then transition to remote learning.
Emory Healthcare also faced a transition, hosting donation drives for personal protective equipment while caring for patients with COVID-19.
First responders from across the region joined a parade past Emory University Hospital on April 15 to thank nurses, doctors, researchers and other hospital workers who put themselves at risk every day to help those affected by COVID-19.
Emory's 175th Commencement took place entirely online May 11, but a handful of graduating students who remained in the Atlanta area found a creative place to watch: the Emory Quad, which in a normal year would have been packed with thousands of happy graduates and their supporters. To maintain physical distancing, students gathered with roommates or family with whom they were already sheltering.
Faculty and graduate students from Emory's Rollins School of Public Health provided COVID-19 tests to 450 poultry plant workers, family members and other contacts in a May 22 visit to Hall County, Georgia, where poverty levels are high and health care resources scarce.
Providing public health assistance is the goal of a new partnership between Rollins and the Georgia Department of Public Health. Launched with a $7.8 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative is designed to bolster response and surveillance efforts all around Georgia.
May 2020, Continued
From the Emory Quadrangle to hospitals to homes around the world, thousands of members of the Emory community came together June 5 to protest racist violence and recommit to working for a more just future.
Wearing masks to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic, the crowd that filled the Quad for the “White Coats for Black Lives” vigil knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time George Floyd suffered under the knee of the Minneapolis police officer charged in his death.
Emory researchers quickly mobilized to address the pandemic, with the university emerging as a national leader in coronavirus-related research. In a span of months, Emory investigators had launched 177 studies, including more than 30 clinical trials, and published more than 350 papers on COVID-19.
In early August, Emory administered its first dose for the Phase III clinical trial of an investigational vaccine for COVID-19 co-developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and biotech company Moderna, Inc.
Emory was also one of three sites that took part in a Phase I study of the same vaccine. Early results from that study found the vaccine was generally well tolerated and generated an immune response among participants.
Move-In Day is a treasured tradition for first-year students joining the Emory community on the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, but starting college in the midst of a global pandemic required new plans and protocols for the Class of 2024.
To help limit campus density in response to COVID-19, Emory’s first-year students were given the option to live on campus this fall or learn from home, while most upper class students continued to engage in remote learning. For those learning on campus, Move-In Day was spread over several days, and face coverings, physical distancing and frequent COVID-19 testing became the norm.
Emory President Gregory L. Fenves (second photo, third from left), who began his new role as the university’s 21st president on Aug. 1., was on hand to safely welcome students as they began moving in Aug. 13 — including learning how to make the Raoul Hall "R."
Sept. 9: How COVID-19 impacts the brain
Campus life looked distinctly different throughout the fall semester. Students, faculty and staff on campus wore face coverings consistently whether in class, on the job or during safely distanced recreational activities in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 "For you. For us. For Emory."
The pandemic did not deter Emory students, faculty and staff from participating in the November elections — either through mail-in ballots or voting in person with face coverings and distancing.
The nonpartisan Emory Votes Initiative promoted civic engagement across Emory’s campuses and Emory was among the nation’s top 10 colleges and universities to engage with TurboVote, a nonpartisan online platform that helps register, inform and educate voters.
On Dec. 17, Emory Healthcare administered the first COVID-19 vaccinations to its frontline health care workers, providing hope as the pandemic continues to surge across Georgia and the U.S.
Nicole Baker, an emergency department nurse manager and frontline emergency room nurse at Emory University Hospital, was the first employee to receive the Pfizer vaccination at Emory, following the vaccine’s arrival that morning. Christy Norman, vice president of Emory Healthcare Pharmacy Services, administered the vaccination.
Emory gained renewed energy Jan. 25, 2021, as most spring semester classes got underway. Face coverings and physical distancing are required for students, faculty and staff on campus, while many continue to learn, teach and work remotely.
The on-campus community expanded moderately, while maintaining one student per room in residence halls. In addition to first-year students and international students, those invited to live on campus this spring include participants in approved undergraduate research programs and experiential learners engaged in professional development necessary for spring degree completion.
“Hygge” refers to the Scandinavian way of creating a cozy, vibrant, comfortable environment that evokes feelings of wellness and contentment.
A new Oxford College initiative that debuted this semester brings the concept to life for students living on campus through outdoor gathering spaces complete with fire pits, string lights and even blankets and pillows. Meanwhile, “Hygge at Home” offers digital options and ideas for students learning remotely.
On a recent morning, volunteers waved as they prepared to greet patients at Emory Healthcare’s COVID-19 vaccination center at Atlanta’s Northlake Mall. Hundreds of Emory and Emory Healthcare staff have volunteered to help at the facility, housed in a former Kohl's department store. To date, Emory Healthcare has administered more than 75,000 vaccines, most at the Northlake site.
“The important thing is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” says Christy Norman, Emory Healthcare’s vice president for pharmacy services. “Launching this so quickly was an incredible undertaking. But rising to a challenge like this – where the public’s health is stake – is in Emory’s DNA.”
Featured photos by Kay Hinton, Jack Kearse, Stephen Nowland, Parth Mody and David Cannon. Portions of this content were originally published as part of Emory's 2020 Year in Review.