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When Amherst College students leave for spring break, they won't be coming back - school to provide online classes rather than risk coronavirus infection

The small college announced today that when students leave for spring break, they should take most of their belongings with them, because the campus will be closed to them and the professors will instead use videoconferencing and other online systems to complete classes for the semester.

Covid-19, of course:

We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it. The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great. The best time to act in ways that slow the spread of the virus is now.

The campus will remain open to professors and staff - and to a small number of students who can convince school administrators they need to stay over for the entire semester and who will not be going anywhere for spring break. There have yet to be any Covid-19 cases in Hampshire County.

The college posted some FAQs, including:

Should I take my personal belongings? What if I cannot take them all?

Because the duration of this disruption is unclear, we encourage students to take as many of their belongings as possible, particularly the items and materials they need to continue their studies remotely after the break. A subsequent notice to students will provide more information about packing and moving support.

Nearby Smith College announced yesterday it doesn't currently plan to close the campus to students, but is looking at "a scenario in which all courses would move to alternate modes of instruction should COVID-19 affect our on-campus community directly."

Hampshire College, another member of the Five College Consortium, said today it will open its dorms over spring break to students who don't want to travel overseas or even to other parts of the US.

Mount Holyoke College is also opening its dorms over spring break and is requiring any students who travel more than 100 miles to register their trips with the school. A faculty/staff task force is looking at how to keep classes going should the campus need to be shut.

UMass Amherst, by far the largest of the Five Colleges says it has assembled a task force to formulate a Covid-19 reponse should the virus appear on campus or nearby.



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What the actual hell?

Voting closed 10

Wow! That is a bit extreme...but might be the smart choice if they know they simply do not have the staff resources to deal with an outbreak effectively...

Anyway, its also Hampshire County not Hampden County...

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Fixed, thanks!

Voting closed 8

Princeton is doing the same. Expect to see Boston area College’s and Universities to follow suit. I don’t think this is extreme. They are trying to do the right thing.

Voting closed 8

As I have a kid at one of the five colleges, the thought that something like this could happen hit me on Sunday. After hearing a radio story about the math behind the virus progression, I thought, "wow, the sh*t is going to hit the fan during break". If all the students were to stay on campus, I think it wouldn't be necessary when there are no cases identified, but with students scattering to hundreds of places and coming back after a week, the possibility of exposure is so much higher - particularly when they could be asymptomatic upon return.

In any case, the recommendation from Amherst to take anything you need to continue your classes is a good one, whether your school has announced or not.

Voting closed 12

My son is a senior at UMass Amherst (same graduating class as the Woman formerly known as Kidlet). He asked that if he has to "mail it in" for the remainder of the semester if his girlfriend can move in, too. She graduated in December, needs to be closer to the city to look for work. He's lined up several interviews for spring break, some with multinational organizations. That might prove to be a challenge.

So, yes, the rumors are circulating. UMass has a lot more capacity to cope with this than Amherst University, to say the least, but there comes a time when "moving the curve" is important.

Kind of scary when headlines like "US preparing for half a million deaths"* turn out to be a somewhat low estimate for a country with 330 million people. But the dead don't care where they end up - slowing the epidemic and spreading out the hospital load is the real concern.

*330,000,000*10% of population infected = 33,000,000 infected. (that's a low infection rate)
500,000/33,000,000 is a case fatality rate of 5/330= 0.015 or 1.5%

To compare, if 1/3 of the US population get this bug and 5% require hospital support, we get 110,000,000*0.05=5.5 MILLION hospitalized. Then consider that some places will always be hit harder than others and spreading that burden out over time becomes critical.

Voting closed 6


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All biolabs will be training all students on PCR.

IF they have a machine. Not sure if these have gotten more standardized and turn key or less expensive in 20 years since I helped cobble one together.

Voting closed 11

It's easy for colleges to do this.

Their paranoid lawyers are kept happy. And it doesn't cost the college anything. It goes without saying that they're not going to refund any tuition or room and board fees.

Voting closed 22

“It goes without saying that they're not going to refund any tuition or room and board fees.“

How do you know this? Are you the CFO/COO of any one of the “colleges” in question? Are you a Bursar who wants to refuse consideration of refunds? Are you a primary member of any school’s crisis management team? Are you a trained crisis response manager?

I suspect you’re just a bitter internet troll, making rando rude comments about a small school that is in crisis, who feels it has to resort to their utter-frigging nightmare, absolutely shitty, worst-case-scenario of cancelling the end of their semester.

Compassion is free. Being kind doesn’t cost you anything. Why not try it, kid?

Voting closed 8

The costs will be huge as is the case for any major unplanned changes. They still need to pay their staff and faculty and in many cases there's now hazard pay and OT as they scramble to make all the changes. Important on-campus events are cancelled which means refunds and/or loss of deposits plus the loss of whatever revenue they might have taken in. They need to figure out how to keep research projects going if the students who normally help aren't around. The list goes on and on.

Major disruptions are always expensive and this is no exception.

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Many colleges also use graduation week to gather in their reunions and get people to pony up money to support the next year's activities.

If the mass gatherings are cancelled, it may be difficult to shake down the various classes of 1970, 1980, 1990, etc.

Voting closed 11

Overtime? Hazard pay? I take it you've never worked in academia.

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But your mom and I really enjoy having the house to ourselves. You should call your grandmother, bye now.

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What do they do with the international students who can't fly home? (As in, all the flights have been canceled.) What about students who don't have a stable home to return to?

What about the students who live off campus and pay the rent by taking jobs that might be cut once the normal student population isn't around and people stop going out?

Voting closed 17

This is where size matters.

UMass Amherst keeps a dining hall open and those students stay over by moving into a single open dorm.

Amherst probably doesn't have that capacity, but I know they at least used to board people at UMass over such breaks.

Voting closed 7

It will be interesting to see how they sort that out.
If colleges do keep "a" dorm and "a" dining hall open for international students - where people, you know... congregate - it's contrary to the rationale of sending everyone else home.
Also, it's going to throw some support employees (food service) out of work.
I was talking about this with my wife and a coworker. If the universities do close "everything", where do the internationals go?
Special concern in this day and age - If their academic program is disrupted, if they're essentially evicted from their address of record... what would that do to their visas? Will they be ordered deported by the Covfefe-45 stain... errr, strain? Will they be allowed back when "normalcy" resumes?

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Current Mt. Holyoke status (dated yesterday):

Further, we strongly discourage students from traveling during spring break. As is our usual practice, all residence halls and the dining commons will be open to residential students. Students must register by March 12 to remain on campus

The risk would be reduced if everyone stayed on campus, but that isn't going to happen.

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For those wondering if this is an overreaction, do some web searches on the phrase "flattening the curve". Or watch this video on Twitter.

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https://www.harvard.edu/coronavirus :

Effective March 10 and until further notice:

We will begin transitioning to online instruction for all graduate and undergraduate classes. The goal is to complete this transition by March 23.

Students are asked not to return to campus after Spring Recess [March 14-22] and to meet academic requirements remotely.

Students who need to remain on campus for extenuating circumstances will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions.

All graduate students will transition to remote work wherever possible.

Schools will communicate more specific guidance, and we encourage you to review your School and Program-specific coronavirus page for more information.

Voting closed 8