Eastern responds to coronavirus

University explores online teaching option as safety measure

Analicia Haynes, Senior Reporter

With universities across the country canceling classes or switching instruction to online format, Eastern has been responding to what the World Health Organization is calling a pandemic.

The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread throughout the world and infected more than 120,000 people in more than 100 countries, according to an article from Vox.

It was called a pandemic after identified cases doubled in the U.S. in the span of two days; 60 to 70 percent of Germans could become infected, and Italy locked down its entire population and warned that it was running out of ICU capacity, according to the same article.

As of Wednesday night, the NBA suspended its season indefinitely after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus, Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive and are quarantined in Australia, and U.S. President Donald Trump issued a 30-day travel ban from Europe, among other things.

In the country, there are more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus in 37 states that are confirmed with 19 cases confirmed in Illinois.

Where does Eastern stand?

Eastern President David Glassman issued a statement via email Tuesday night and said there is no presence of the virus at Eastern or in the Charleston community.

He said the university administration is monitoring activities around the country and is planning for and considering different responses, which may include alternative instructional models like going all online.

Nothing has been determined yet, but on Wednesday, Eastern Provost Jay Gatrell said in an emailed statement to the campus community that students should bring all class supplies, notes, laptops and other “necessary academic resources and materials” with them as they leave for spring break on Friday.

He said this is just a precaution to “allow students to support learning at a distance, if needed, after the spring break period.”

However, he said the university will remain open, including residence halls, cafeterias and other services. Classes may just be offered online instead of in classrooms.

Eric Davidson, the interim director of health services, said in an email that moving classes to an online format is a possibility that the university is planning for, “among a variety of contingencies.”

But he said since the university never closes, there would be essential staff and units who would still need to work to maintain some level of operations. He could not say what that would look like, however.

During a March 3 interview, Graduate School Dean Ryan Hendrickson said the university along with the Offices of Study Abroad and International Students and Scholars had been planning a response to the virus in terms of study abroad since late in February.

Hendrickson said there were two students studying abroad in Italy, who were told to return to the U.S. as soon as the university found out that Italy entered a Level 3 Travel Advisory. That was February 25.

“We recommended that they come back to the U.S. immediately,” he said. “We also contacted all of our study abroad programs that are in Italy this summer and indicated that we are concerned about the situation in Italy and are monitoring it constantly.”

Hendrickson said they shared updates with the international education council, which is a group that meets once a month that advises his office and the offices of study abroad and international students and scholars.

He said they told that group that if there would be a Level 3 rating anywhere in the world, the study abroad program would be canceled.

He said it is very standard practice that if a country is in Level 3, people would not go there in connection to a university and would not send a study abroad program to the university.

“That’s where we were at Friday morning (Feb. 28),” Hendrickson said. “Then sometime over the weekend, Italy was rated Level 3, and then maybe on Sunday, the Northern region reached a Level 4 rating.”

At that point, he said the university canceled the two study abroad programs going to Italy over the summer and a trip to South Korea for one student.

“There has been a lot of planning and a lot of attention to this. Our two students who are in Italy are set to return to the U.S. in the next couple of days,” he said during the March 3 interview. “That’s good news, and that’s almost what all universities are doing — telling their students to come home.”

A travel policy

Also with the help of Davidson, the university adopted a travel policy that mirrors those of other universities.

The policy is in response to students potentially traveling over break.

It is effective as of March 2 and states that any student, faculty member and staff member traveling from international areas which have been designated as falling under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Travel Advisory Level 3 and Level 2 have to isolate themselves for 14 days before coming back to campus.

A Travel Advisory Level 3 means a warning and people should avoid nonessential travel, and a Level 2 rating means it is an alert and people should practice enhanced precautions.

They will have to stay in their homes, not go to class or athletic events, work or other social gatherings until those 14 days are up.

Those in self-isolation should plan for others to bring them food and other necessities and have to prove that they were in isolation for 14 days before being allowed to resume normal campus activities, the policy read.

Those who wish to return to campus must self-isolate at their permanent home/residence after departing from the country in question and before returning to campus/Charleston.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].