University of Washington cancels classes over coronavirus

In-person tuition put on hold for next three weeks across all campuses

March 6, 2020
University of Washington campus
Source: iStock

The University of Washington has cancelled in-person classes for the next three weeks in response to the global coronavirus outbreak, in the first such move by a major US institution.

The university announced the decision on 6 March, calling it “a way to increase precautionary health measures, such as social distancing, and ensure the successful conclusion of the quarter for UW students on all of our campuses”.

The decision, effective as of 9 March, covers all three Washington campuses, in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell. Classes and finals will not be held in person for the remainder of winter quarter, which ends on 20 March, Washington said.

Various non-academic campus services and activities will remain open, including hospitals and clinics, dining services, residence halls, sports facilities and team games, Washington said.

Washington said it expected to resume normal class operations on 30 March with the start of the spring quarter, “pending public health guidance”.

Class closures have become widespread at universities globally, and have begun spreading at the grade school level in the US, as the confirmed worldwide toll from the virus, known as Sars-CoV-2, has reached about 100,000 infections and 3,300 deaths.

Washington appeared to be the first major US institution at the post-secondary level to do so, although several other US universities have acknowledged considering the possibility.

The struggle on how to respond is complicated by factors that include the recognition that younger people appear the least vulnerable to the disease, and by medical predictions that personal behaviours regarding cleanliness, rather than travel limits, appear the stronger predictor of the disease’s spread.

Some academic groups have cancelled conferences, such as the American Physical Society annual conference set for Denver. Others, such as the American Council on Education annual meeting in San Diego, remain set to go ahead.

New York University’s Langone Medical Center this week ordered its staff to observe a 60-day ban on all domestic and international work-related travel and meetings. The Association of American Medical Colleges said that policy appeared unique among US medical schools.

Others, however, are coming close to that point. Duke University said in a statement that it was not restricting domestic travel. “However,” it added, “we encourage everyone to reconsider travel attendance at large conferences and events.”

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