UPDATE (March 12, 8:03 p.m. PT) — The University of Oregon is responding to the spread of coronavirus with remote learning and a curb on large gatherings.
The university has canceled any gathering of more than 50 people starting Sunday, March 15. Students will take their winter term final exams remotely.
And students will spend at least the first three weeks of spring term, which begins March 30, learning remotely. Residence halls will stay open through spring break and beyond, and some campus cafeterias will serve food over spring break. Campus remains open, and university employees will continue to work, according to the message sent out Wednesday by UO President Michael Schill.
Oregon State University also announced plans Wednesday to move coursework online.
The university will stay open and classes will continue “while emphasizing maximum social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
Spring classes at OSU, UO and Portland State University will remain online until at least mid-April.
By late Wednesday afternoon, Oregon had joined a list of more than 150 colleges around the country to cancel in-person classes because of coronavirus concerns, according to a list aggregated by Georgetown University professor Brian Alexander.
Education Week reports hundreds of K-12 schools have closed, too. Seattle Public Schools, Washington state’s largest district, is closing Thursday for at least two weeks.
Yet Oregon’s top health and education officials issued guidance Sunday warning against school closures, acknowledging school as a point of access for healthcare and food for some students.
“The public health benefit of school closures is likely low compared to the negative impacts on communities and populations facing health and social inequities,” according to the Oregon Health Authority recommendation.
While OHA’s advice differs from officials in other parts of the country, what Oregon suggests is consistent with interim guidance materials for public and private universities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency’s advice only mentions suspending classes or moving classes online if there are identified cases of COVID-19 in the community.
Spring break for most of Oregon’s campuses is coming up at the end of March, right after final exams.
Portland State University updated its policies Thursday. Initially, administrators were “strongly encouraging” faculty to move some operations online for the next couple of weeks.
But in a message Thursday, PSU announced there would be no “in-person instruction” on Friday - the last day before finals, and “there will be no in-person finals on PSU’s campus next week.” Officials also said definitively that “spring classes will be offered and will be conducted remotely through mid-April.”
PSU added that in light of Gov. Brown’s guidance Thursday morning, that “all non-essential, in-person events and gatherings of more than 20 people should be canceled,” urging meetings in an “online format.”
OSU’s Steve Clark said the university is also asking students, faculty, and staff not to travel for spring break.
There have been no identified cases on the Oregon State campus, but there are cases being tested in Deschutes and Benton counties, where OSU’s Cascades and main campuses are located.
Faculty and staff at universities including PSU and University of Oregon have been asked to relax attendance policies where absences affect grades. Administrators at both universities are asking professors to provide options to make up missed exams.
“We’re asking our faculty to provide maximum leniency in attendance for students who are presenting illnesses of any sort that would keep them from participating in an exam or class,” said Clark.
Oregon State University says a faculty guide to remote teaching will be available for staff.
As buildings remain open, universities have increased cleaning of areas that many people touch.
“We…urge everyone to take this public health matter seriously but also to not panic,” Clark said.