Princeton University will move all lectures, seminars, and precepts online on March 23 and is encouraging students to stay home after spring break.
“While much remains unknown about COVID-19’s epidemiology and impact, our medical advisers tell us that we should proceed on the assumption that the virus will spread more broadly and eventually reach our campus. They also tell us that the best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later,” Chris Eisgruber, president of the university, wrote in a letter to students, faculty, and staff members on March 9.
New Jersey reported its first case last week and now has six patients who have tested positive, while nearby New York state has more than 100 patients with the illness.
Eisgruber referenced the community spread of the virus in New York and other locales as supporting the need for so-called social distancing measures.
“Our goal is to decrease the number of instances that require community members to gather in large groups or spend extended periods of time in close proximity with each other,” he wrote.
All lectures, seminars, and precepts that can be moved online will be, in a mandatory, temporary move on March 23. The measures will be in place through April 5. Officials are also encouraging students to consider staying home after spring break.
“We understand that these and other measures will cause significant disruption and inconvenience to the campus community, but we strongly believe that actions taken now will have the greatest chance of decreasing risk, and that the potential consequences of not acting could far outweigh these short-term disruptions,” Eisgruber wrote.
Columbia University in New York canceled classes on March 9 and 10 and was shifting classes online for the rest of the week, President Lee Bollinger wrote in a letter to the school community. That decision was based on a member of the community being exposed to the virus, though that member hasn’t yet tested positive, he said.
The University of Washington stated last week that it would move all classes online starting March 9 because of the number of cases in the state. There are more than 100 patients in Washington state and most of the nation’s deaths from the new illness have taken place there.
Numerous school districts have canceled classes due to the new virus, including districts in Washington state, California, and New York. Closing schools is one aspect of non-pharmaceutical interventions to try to slow the spread of the virus. Other aspects include personal actions such as washing hands and staying home while sick, community measures such as canceling large events, and environmental interventions such as cleaning surfaces at places like subway stations.
Vice President Mike Pence said earlier this month that the Trump administration would defer to local governments and other policymakers at the state and local level in terms of school closings and other decisions.
The new virus has spread to more than 100 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people and killing thousands. There is no vaccine or proven treatment at this time.
Experts recommend frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating; staying away from sick people; and not touching one’s face, eyes, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Sick people should stay home and contact their doctor or health authorities.