The University of Vermont and Champlain College each announced Wednesday that they will shift to remote learning in an effort to keep their campuses coronavirus-free.
UVM students are currently on spring break and were due to return to campus on Monday, March 16. Classes on that day and the next are canceled, and remote instruction will begin on March 18, according to a statement from UVM President Suresh Garimella.
"This decisive action reflects our commitment to help slow the spread of the virus while also promoting the academic progress of our students and protecting the health and safety of our community," he wrote. The protocol does not apply to UVM's Larner College of Medicine, "which is developing a separate action plan centered on their unique needs."
Champlain College is currently on spring break and will extend it until March 23, after which "remote instruction will be in effect for at least three weeks, and students and faculty should expect that a longer period of remote instruction is likely," interim president Laurie Quinn wrote in an email.
Both institutions are implementing "social distancing" policies. Champlain is virtualizing or canceling all campus events and meetings effective immediately. UVM will begin limiting indoor events to 25 people or fewer on March 18 and will host larger meetings remotely.
The UVM men's basketball team is scheduled to host the America East Conference tournament championship game at Patrick Gym beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 14.
"Right now, we're moving ahead with the game and assessing it as we go," said Gary Derr, UVM's vice president for operations and safety. "There are no confirmed cases in the Burlington area, only one in Vermont at this point. We're assessing that risk and making decisions as we go."
UVM undergraduates will be allowed to stay in residence halls if they have no other housing options, according to Annie Stevens, UVM's vice provost for student affairs. All students can still come onto campus for academic assistance or to access other services, Stevens said.
UVM graduate and post-doctoral students will continue their studies, and employees are expected to report to work, according to Garimella. UVM will consider allowing employees to telecommute if the situation worsens, Derr added.
Champlain students who are studying abroad are permitted to stay as the administration monitors changing conditions, Quinn wrote. The college has also has a voluntary travel registry for employees to document their travel.
Champlain and UVM are the second and third Vermont institutions of higher education to switch to remote learning in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. Middlebury College became the first on Tuesday, when it announced it would send students on spring break a week early and would not reopen afterward.
Vermont State Colleges are continuing in-person classes but are preparing for the possibility of switching to remote instruction, Chancellor Jeb Spaulding said. "We are ready for whatever comes our way," he said. "If we need to disperse students, we will."
St. Michael's College remains open, but president Lorraine Sterritt has advised students to bring their coursework home in case normal classes don't resume after spring break, which begins March 13.
In her statement, Champlain's Quinn acknowledged that the decision was a hard one. She said she'd provide an update on April 6.
"Please remember that your Champlain education, while it may look and feel very different in the short term, can and will continue, thanks to our committed and creative faculty, who will have our full support, and our dedicated and talented staff, who will focus on ensuring continuity," she wrote.
Garimella echoed the sentiment: "I recognize these measures are unprecedented and may be unsettling," he wrote. "With that in mind, we will continue to provide regular updates and information."
The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, is officially considered a pandemic. In a press conference, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom reported that COVID-19 cases outside of China — where the disease originated — have increased 13-fold in the past two weeks.
There is only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Vermont. As of Wednesday, 215 Vermonters are being monitored for coronavirus symptoms, according to the Vermont Department of Health.