State University of New York colleges and the University of Rochester will close down most in-person classes and teach the rest of the semester online in an effort to reduce the possibility of spreading the COVID-19 virus, it was announced Wednesday afternoon.
In the evening, Rochester Institute of Technology also announced it would extend this week’s spring break by another week and then begin teaching classes March 23 online or through course redesign.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon that he has also asked companies in the New York City area, where the state’s population is densest and closest to the biggest cluster of confirmed coronavirus cases, to consider having employees work at home, or in shifts to reduce densities and risk of exposure. He also urged means of public transportation to double their cleaning schedules, noting information on how long the virus remains active on surfaces has been conflicting.
University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf, in a letter to the campus community Wednesday afternoon, asked that non-essential visitors postpone visits for the rest of the semester, including to the Memorial Art Gallery, owned by the university. Requests for visiting researchers would be postponed for six months.
The letter also said that the University of Rochester Medical Center is talking with state health officials about whether visitations there need to be curtailed.
The number of cases in New York as of Wednesday afternoon was 212, with 121 of them in the New Rochelle area, just north of New York City. No cases have been detected on any of the local campuses nor in Monroe County.
The SUNY system also includes City College of New York campuses. In the Rochester area, it includes the College at Geneseo, College at Brockport, Monroe Community College, Finger Lakes Community College and Genesee Community College.
As for other local colleges:
- St. John Fisher is taking travel and food-serving precautions, a spokeswoman reported. In addition, it has announced webinars Friday and Monday for faculty on how to use available technology for creating online lectures.
- Similarly, Roberts Wesleyan College said it was preparing to continue classes remotely if necessary, but mostly operating as usual.
- Nazareth College is on break until Monday, but the college’s coronavirus task force is meeting daily to consider whether other steps are needed, a spokeswoman said.
The shift to online learning would begin March 19 for the SUNY schools and March 18 for the University of Rochester. The announcement came during spring break or right before the break for some schools. UR announced that it was adding two days to the break for Eastman School of Music students so they don’t have to return before online instruction starts.
For the public schools, UR and RIT, students were being urged to return to their permanent addresses to complete their studies online. However, if the students are unable to go home, especially because of health-related restrictions in their home communities, their dorms will remain open. UR and RIT said food service would continue for those students on campus.
RIT added that students with on-campus jobs will still have work jobs available. Faculty were expected to report to work, but non-essential meetings were prohibited.
Cuomo said of state dormitories, “They’re not evicting anyone. They’re not closing the dorm and kicking you out.”
Most campuses had already been under some self-imposed restrictions limiting the size of gatherings. In Wednesday’s written announcement to the UR community, Mangelsdorf and other academic leaders listed this change: “essential meetings specifically related to the administrative, academic, or performance obligations of the University are limited to 100 participants until the end of the semester. Everyone is expected to cancel, postpone, or ‘virtualize’ all other meetings.” Some small seminars for graduate students and researchers may continue but are limited to 25 people, the notice said.
Cuomo said decisions had not been made about scheduled SUNY sports competitions and graduations.
Authorities were also discussing whether the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade would be canceled, he said, adding that such as step may not be necessary in smaller cities where the number of cases is smaller or non-existent. Boston and Chicago have canceled their parades.