With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continuing to grow around the country and world, the University of Maine System is working to allow students to keep taking classes online even if they are quarantined or their physical classrooms need to be closed down over health concerns.
“There are no plans to shutter any campuses right now and the university system doesn’t have a date for moving everything online,” said spokesperson Dan Demeritt. “But we’re making preparations for being able to do that.”
No cases of COVID-19 have yet been confirmed in Maine, but it has been detected in every other New England state and health officials have said there is a strong chance it will also arrive here.
The University of Maine System’s preparations have included working with instructors to make sure they can deliver lessons using a variety of online programs and resources, but Demeritt said that figuring out how to remotely offer experiential classes such as science labs has been more of a challenge. He added that the system already offers many courses online.
Some universities on the East Coast, such as Columbia and Princeton universities, have already announced they’ll be moving to remote classes out of concern for the virus, according to the New York Times. Boston University announced Monday that it was instructing faculty to prepare to teach classes remotely in the event campus needs to be shutdown for an emergency.
Demeritt said that having the ability to temporarily move all classes online could help the University of Maine System in other situations, such as if there is heavy snow during the week of final exams. He also said that system administrators are continuing to speak regularly and consult with state health officials for updates about the coronavirus
Chancellor Dannel Malloy addressed the need for such preparations in a Feb. 28 memo on the system’s website.
“We are not overreacting,” he said. “We are preparing. There is no reason yet to expect that any campus closures will be needed. We will continue to monitor medical advances and prevention efforts intended to prevent coronavirus from requiring pandemic responses. Still, an actionable continuity of instruction plan is the right thing to have, and we intend to be ready to limit risks associated with infectious disease or other emergency situations.”
Last week, the University of Maine System announced that 14 of its students who were participating in three study abroad programs in Italy were leaving the country after the U.S. issued a travel advisory because of the high number of coronavirus cases there.
The system would not disclose the health of those students, but Demeritt said that they are remaining isolated for a period of time under federal guidelines. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise Americans who have returned from Italy to remain home for 14 days and seek medical care if they have fever, a cough, or trouble breathing.
Those students were not among more than a dozen people that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has so far tested for COVID-19, according to agency spokesman Robert Long. Under federal criteria, patients must show those types of symptoms and receive the approval of a doctor to qualify for a COVID-19 test.
With the University of Maine System’s spring break coming up next week, it has also been issuing additional travel advice and referring students and staff to guidance from the U.S. CDC.
It has asked students and workers to voluntarily disclose any international travel they have done or are planning to do, and it has encouraged them to reconsider any domestic or international travel “if you are concerned for your safety.”
It has also reminded them about travel advisories the U.S. government has set for China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. On Monday, it said in a memo that federal health guidelines call for people returning from those countries to be quarantined for 14 days.
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