McDaniel to temporarily move to online classes amid coronavirus concerns

Flyers around campus advise ways to prevent the spread of germs. In addition to an email announcement, Tuesday's coronavirus info session was also advertised through flyers. (Marya Kuratova / McDaniel Free Press).

Earlier this afternoon, the McDaniel College Coronavirus Task Force emailed all students to announce that the College will move all on-campus, face-to-face undergraduate and graduate instruction to an online format for a two-week period following Spring Break. This will begin Monday, March 23.

“At this time, McDaniel has no reported cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus),” the email read. “[This decision is being made] out of an abundance of caution and in light of decisions made by the University System of Maryland and our regional peer institutions.”

The email went on to encourage students to pack all materials to continue coursework remotely, as well as essential items, in case they will not return to campus for some time. As a result, undergraduate students now have until 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 to move out of dorm buildings, rather than the previous Spring Break closing time of 7 p.m. this Friday.

Students who wish to remain on campus during the next three weeks due to extenuating circumstances are encouraged to reach out to the Office of Residence Life. During the two-week period following Spring Break, campus offices will be open, but campus activities may be affected.

A little over an hour later, Dean Liz Towle forwarded the same email to parents.

“We remain committed to ensuring parents and caregivers receive the most up-to-date information about the planning and preventative measures that the College is undertaking in response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak,” she wrote.

The College also continues to provide information relating to the coronavirus on its official webpage.

Today’s announcements offer an update, following the coronavirus info session held by President Roger Casey and Towle last night.

Casey began the session by commiserating with students’ anxieties regarding the unknown surrounding the new virus.

“When we’re concerned about something like this, and we’re asking questions, it’s hard to get answers,” he said. “And that rightly drives up our concern and our anxiety, and I share that with you.”

Casey joked about his personal investment in learning more about the virus, as he spent 24 hours in Shanghai on Dec. 29. Several students pretended to begin to leave the room, amid lots of laughter and conversation.

The light mood did not last for long, however, as Casey emphasized the serious nature of the virus and the College’s serious commitment to combatting its spread.

“The first and foremost thing above everything else that we all care about is: we want people to be well,” he said. “And it’s not just you that we want to be well. In reality, you are probably the people in the community who might be the least affected by this virus. It’s people who look like me with a gray beard and no hair that have more to worry about.”

Casey went on to share his concerns for his elderly employees potentially contracting the virus from a student, since this virus is highly contagious through contact. He explained that there is a higher concern at universities because many students travel for Spring Break, come in contact with hundreds of thousands of people, and then return to campus to potentially transmit germs to others.

He reiterated the CDC’s advisory to avoid cruise ships, as well as travel to any heavily affected areas.

According to Casey, “the number of cases will rise through the roof in the next few days,” as more people in the U.S. are now being tested for the virus. He anticipates that this will cause panic in the U.S. to rise even more, but encourages McDaniel students to remain calm.

Casey advised students to wash their hands every time they get the chance, immediately report any symptoms to the Wellness Center, “be friendly without shaking hands,” and stop stealing hand sanitizer out of public dispensers because “we’re in this thing together.”

Towle briefly spoke as well, mentioning that students with pre-existing medical conditions affecting the immune system are also more susceptible to the virus.

She, too, encouraged all students to immediately call the Wellness Center if they are experiencing flu-like systems, even if they have not traveled to affected areas.

Towle also emphasized her understanding of students’ concerns regarding individual situations. She announced that she would sit in Ensor Lounge “so you know where to find me” and encouraged students to approach her with any questions, even during her lunch in Englar Dining Hall.

At the session, it was established that many decisions regarding Spring Break had not yet been made or were continuously revised as the Task Force evaluates “this ever-changing, dynamic situation.” The prospect of switching to online coursework was just one of several possibilities at that point.

The session was well-attended, with nearly all the pews in Baker Memorial Chapel filled to capacity. Many students asked questions following the president’s announcements.

Students expressed concerns regarding the continuation of internships, field work, and classes that would be difficult to conduct online, how financial aid and potential refunds for room and board would be processed, how students without a laptop, internet connection, or stable housing would be accommodated, and whether events like Spring Fling and commencement would be cancelled.

Casey and Towle were unable to provide conclusive answers to these questions, citing the constantly changing federal and state guidelines, as well as the influx of new information each day. They promised to continue to keep the College community updated as quickly as possible.

They did answer some other questions, including a query regarding the College’s plans to increase sanitization and cleaning practices on campus. According to Towle, the Wellness Center has already implemented increased cleaning strategies and Physical Plant staff are planning to clean shared bathrooms in dorms more frequently.

A student also asked about the sister campus in Budapest, Hungary. According to Casey, there is much less presence of the virus in Budapest than in the U.S. Students studying abroad were given the option to return home early, but they all declined. At this time, they are being advised not to travel to other countries, in case borders are closed and they become stuck somewhere.

When asked why the administration chose to hold the information session before a decision regarding Spring Break had been made, Towle emphasized the College’s commitment to keeping the community informed.

“We’re trying to make reasonable, thoughtful decisions, but we’re not sure what will happen,” she said. “We want to be as clear with you as possible with what we’re considering.”

If the situation continues to develop and the two-week online format requires any changes, the Task Force will continue to update the coronavirus information webpage.