Coronavirus: US universities mull canceling in-person classes until 2021

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A number of universities and higher education institutions in the US are considering the possibility of canceling in-person classes until 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Boston University said classes would continue to be held remotely through the fall semester. Earlier the university has already canceled all in-person summer activities on its primary campus.

“The Recovery Plan recognizes that if, in the unlikely event that public health officials deem it unsafe to open in the fall of 2020, then the University's contingency plan envisions the need to consider a later in-person return, perhaps in January 2021,” the university said in an online statement.

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However, President Robert A. Brown is optimistic that in the best-case scenario Boston University would allow students to return on the fall and until then “would focus its efforts on finding the best and safest way to do that”.

Harvard is considering “lots of different scenarios” for the fall semester, President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview last week. Harvard was one of the first universities in the US to "de-densify" its campus by sending students home earlier this spring.

The University of Arizona said it remained hopeful the fall semester would include a return to campus.

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Oregon State University moved most of its summer instruction online. "Only the novel coronavirus will determine what happens. We can hope for a full return in fall 2020, but hope is not a strategy. So that is why we are going to prepare as best we can for every possible contingency," OSU spokesman Steve Clark told The Oregonian.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing about unprecedented changes to the academic calendar of the universities and colleges in the US such as moving classes online, canceling spring breaks and postponing commencement ceremonies.

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The US may have to endure social distancing measures, such as stay-at-home orders and school closures, until 2022, according to researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available,” the researchers said.

The colleges are doing the right thing by planning for the unexpected, according to Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and visiting scientist at the Chan School.

“I think colleges should all definitely make plans for delaying start dates and for intermittent closings and reopenings, because epidemiology modeling suggests we may have to go into open and close waves until potentially even 2022,” he was quoted saying to CNN.

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