The Coronavirus Threatens to Upend Higher Ed. Here Are the Latest Developments.

The novel coronavirus and Covid-19, the disease it causes, are becoming a public-health threat across the world, fueling fears of a possible pandemic.

As more cases are reported, colleges are re-evaluating their study-abroad programs, moving courses online, and taking other preventive measures. Meanwhile, some academic associations are canceling their conferences.

We’ve compiled what you need to know — to be updated regularly — on the virus’s spread and its implications for higher ed.

Which American campuses have reported cases?

As of March 5, at least 163 cases of the virus had been reported in the United States. There were scattered reports of connections to college campuses:

Dartmouth College notified its community on March 2 that an employee of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center had tested positive for the virus, and had attended an event at the college’s graduate business school before being quarantined. It was reported late on March 3 that a second employee of the center had tested positive and had been isolated.

Students at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, near Seattle, may have been exposed to the virus, according to the Kirkland Reporter, after visiting a nursing facility where cases have been confirmed. On March 4 the college announced that a faculty member had tested positive for Covid-19 and the campus would be closed through the weekend. The college said the unidentified faculty member had been self-quarantined.

On March 5 the tech college said 46 people on its campus, primarily in the nursing and physical-therapy-assistant programs, had been asked to self-quarantine. The college did not say whether those people were faculty members, students, staff members, or a combination of the groups.

How has Covid-19 affected study-abroad programs and travel? 

Because most reported cases are abroad, many American colleges and universities are advising students studying abroad in countries where coronavirus cases have been reported to return home. Some colleges are also imposing self-quarantines on people returning from affected countries.

Many colleges are restricting or suspending travel they have sponsored to the same countries, and canceling or suspending study-abroad programs. On March 4, Georgetown University suspended all university-sponsored international travel by students until May 15. The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa also announced restrictionson university-sponsored travel to affected countries.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Wednesday that approximately 300 students from the State and City University of New York systems who were studying abroad in five countries would return to the United States on chartered flights before undergoing a 14-day quarantine. The five countries — China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea — are all under a Level 2 or Level 3 travel notice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A slew of other institutions, including the University of Virginia and Northwestern, Pennsylvania State, and Rutgers Universities, have canceled all campus-sponsored spring-break trips abroad. Some institutions cited a statement, issued by the CDC on March 1, that recommended that American colleges and universities “consider postponing or canceling student foreign-exchange programs.”

This is the first time the CDC has released guidance about students’ travel abroad, said Natalie Melo, vice president for programs, training, and services at the Forum for Education Abroad, a nonprofit organization that promotes health and safety in academic travel.

“What surprised us is that the CDC has never issued guidance like that before,” she said. “People were scrambling as far as how to respond to it.”

How else are campuses preparing for a possible pandemic?

The American College Health Association on March 3 released a set of guidelines for how colleges can deal with the coronavirus. The guidelines suggested, among other things, that colleges:

Set up a committee to handle a campus coronavirus response.
Prepare student health services with training and supplies.
Make plans for what to do with students who might develop the coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Education released on March 5 a memo with information on how colleges and universities can respond to academic interruptions while complying with federal financial-aid law. Among other things, the memo gives “broad approval” to institutions to set up online instruction for students affected by closures or suspensions.

Several colleges are preparing for even-more-disruptive scenarios. Syracuse University said on March 2 that it was devising a plan to continue instruction in case it has to “suspend residential learning.”

Officials at Washington State University and the University of Iowa alluded to the possibility of teaching classes online. A March 2 email from an associate dean at Iowa urged instructors to become more familiar with remote-education tools, according to The Daily Iowan.Washington State lecturers were advised in a March 4 communication to consider recording lectures as a contingency.

Some colleges around the country are already dealing with the reality of the new coronavirus. Three students were quarantined last week at the University of California at Davis because of their possible exposure to the virus. A spokesman for the university, Andy Fell, told The Chronicle in an email that Davis had rolled out an intensive-cleaning program even before the suspected case.

“We have increased the frequency and depth of cleaning and disinfection in student residences, dining commons, etc. as a precautionary measure,” he said. “We are doing our best to keep the students and campus community informed through web updates, messages, and social media.”

Deborah Beck, executive director of student health services at the University of South Carolina at Columbia and a member of the American College Health Association’s coronavirus task force, told The Chronicle that colleges and universities should avoid housing students with suspected coronavirus cases in residence halls.

Isolation and quarantines “would not work very well in an area that’s high density,” Beck said.

She added that colleges should have plans in place to minimize the spreading of the virus on their campuses. Turning large lectures and classes into an online video format would be a good way to stop the virus from spreading, Beck said, but ultimately colleges should ready themselves for the worst.

To continue reading, please visit: