Colleges and universities in Illinois are trying to strike the right balance of caution and preparedness as other schools across the country rapidly cancel in-person classes amid coronavirus fears. More than 50 universities nationwide have canceled face-to-face classes, shifting coursework online.
So far, no university in Illinois has canceled classes or reported a positive case of COVID-19 on campus as of Tuesday evening. But many university officials across the state are meeting daily with their emergency operations committees to assess steps to scale up online classes or address an outbreak should one occur.
“We’re looking simultaneously at how quickly we can move to alternative modes of delivery along with how quickly is this virus moving,” said Kevin Pitts, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s really unbelievable how quickly things are moving.”
Universities, including DePaul and the University of Illinois at Chicago, are asking faculty to familiarize themselves with online learning platforms and plan for possible shifts to online teaching. DePaul said it canceled classes at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios Tuesday and Wednesday after school leaders learned a patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19 had been working on a television show at the studio. However, DePaul’s classrooms aren’t near where the patient worked. Cinespace, including DePaul’s facilities, is receiving a deep clean. DePaul University administrators said they don’t believe a campus closure is imminent and classes will continue.
City Colleges of Chicago said in an email to students and faculty Monday that they are not considering closing its seven community college campuses. Oakton Community College said it’s prepared to hold classes online for two to three weeks if necessary, but also doesn’t plan to close at this time. In a statement on their website Tuesday, Loyola University Chicago said it is not restricting group meetings or classes, but is encouraging faculty to move courses online and preparing for possibility that all classes would be held remotely.
Meanwhile, some private universities are taking more specific steps to limit on campus interactions while continuing to hold classes. The University of Chicago in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood announced Tuesday it is canceling all campus events over 100 people and travel by faculty and administrators.
“Out of an abundance of caution we are enacting new travel suspensions and measures to encourage ‘social distancing’ and thereby reduce contacts that could aid the spread of the virus,” wrote Provost Ka Yee C. Lee in an email sent to the campus community
Lee advised students leaving for spring break in a week and a half to prepare in the event they cannot return to campus.
Northwestern University struck a more advisory tone, requesting schools cancel large events on campus through April 15, as well as non-essential travel. There are no plans to cancel classes there at this time.
But each day could bring more change. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign expects to send out an email to students by Thursday detailing plans for after spring break, which starts March 16.