Universities Move Classes, Finals Online Over Coronavirus Concerns

March 9, 2020 Updated: March 9, 2020

Colleges and universities in California, New York, and Washington—the states with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases—will not be holding classes and exams in person for the remainder of the winter quarter.

In Washington state, the decision came after a University of Washington (UW) staff member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease the new coronavirus causes. The patient is currently in self-isolation at home and the building the person worked in has been shut down for disinfection.

On March 6, the university said that starting Monday, classes and finals on all its three campuses—Bothell, Seattle, and Tacoma—will be held online until March 20, when the winter quarter ends. UW campuses will remain open however, for those who rely on its services including hospitals and clinics, dining services, residence halls, library services, and recreation and athletics facilities.

The university added in a statement that it plans to resume in-person classes and exams when the spring quarter begins on March 30.

Similarly, Stanford University in Northern California announced on March 6 it was canceling all in-person classes for the last two weeks of the winter quarter, after a clinical faculty member at its School of Medicine tested positive for COVID-19. Classes will be conducted online “to the extent feasible,” and all finals scheduled to be taken in person will be given as take-home exams.

“Where online instruction takes place, students will be expected to attend classes online at their regularly scheduled time, though we will continue to encourage instructors to be flexible with attendance and exam policies for any students who are ill,” the announcement read. It added that if remote instruction is not possible, instructors are allowed to grade their students based on the first nine weeks of the quarter.

Last week, Stanford also recommended the cancellation of all events that involve more than 150 people, not including classes, according to student newspaper The Stanford Daily. Group campus tours and information sessions for newly admitted students have also been canceled through at least April 15.

Over the weekend in New York City, Yeshiva University (YU) reported that a student and a professor tested positive for COVID-19. The Jewish university promptly canceled all classes at its Washington Heights and Midtown campuses until after the Purim holiday, which begins on the evening of March 9 and ends on the evening of March 10. All large social events, including a basketball tournament and Purim celebrations, have also been canceled. The YU also advised students not to congregate in common areas including in the Beit Midrash, a sacred room usually attached to a synagogue for the study of religious scriptures.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance allowing institutions to use distant learning technologies to add or expand online classes temporarily if classes cannot meet as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak within their campus or community.

COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year and has spread to over 100 countries around the world. There is no vaccine or proven treatment, though many patients have gotten better through rest and medical care.

As of Sunday evening, 34 states and the U.S. capitol have reported more than 500 cases to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. The agency has also received reports of 19 deaths, with all but one taking place in Washington state.

Florida recently announced two deaths. It wasn’t clear why those weren’t included in the total.

Experts recommend frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, regularly cleaning surfaces and objects, and not touching one’s face with unwashed hands.

People who become ill should stay at home and contact their doctor or health authorities. Depending on their symptoms, they may be asked to stay isolated at home. If symptoms are severe or in some other cases, patients will be quarantined at hospitals.