In an announcement Sunday, Memorial University's dean of science, Mark Abrahams, said MUN will be stopping all face-to-face classes and laboratories starting at the end of the day on Wednesday.
“This gives us the opportunity to meet all of our obligations to our students and make sure they can successfully complete their academic term,” Abrahams said.
The news comes one day after it was announced by the province's chief medical officer, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, that a woman from Newfoundland and Labrador had the first presumptive case of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the province. The woman is in self-isolation and her symptoms are mild, Fitzgerald said. That case is still yet to be confirmed.
Abrahams, who is also the incident commander of Memorial’s Emergency Operations Committee, said the decision to stop all face-to-face classes and laboratories is unprecedented and a decision that wasn’t made lightly.
“We needed to make sure that we co-ordinated with the provincial government and we needed to make sure that academic units understood what was going on,” Abrahams said. “Obviously there’s a lot of questions that come up. I’m not going to suggest for a minute that we have all the answers to all those questions, but we tried to get as many as we could.”
While the university is still cautioning against gatherings of over 25 people which are not critical, Memorial will remain open between Monday and Wednesday for lectures and laboratories.
“Our academic mission is core to the university and so that is a critical operation that we need carry on, continue and maintain,” he said.
In the meantime, efforts to keep a clean campus have been increased.
"We are beginning enhanced cleaning effective immediately,” he said. “We are going to try to make sure that the campus is as low risk as possible for disease transmission.”
After closing Wednesday, Memorial will remain closed for Thursday and Friday. Remote classes, which will be delivered primarily online, will begin on Monday, March 23. Laboratories are expected to be concluded by this Wednesday.
“Normally we don’t run labs toward the end of the academic term anyway, so we’ll have most of the labs complete and allow students to get their credit,” Abrahams said.
Residences will remain open, but university authorities are working on getting students who can leave, moved out.
“We want to get the numbers down in the residences,” he said. “Obviously, not all students will be able to leave the residence. But if we do have an incident, we want to be able to isolate infected students and have a very low risk of transmission within the residence itself.”
Students who move out early will be refunded money based on the time the student leaves.
Staff and faculty are still required to work on campus.
“The university is not closed, we are simply suspending classes,” Abrahams said.
“The vast number of people on this campus are students, that’s about 18,000 students, and so that alone is going to make a big difference in terms of the total density of students. Once we have addressed the student issues then we will be taking a look at the staff and faculty issues as well.”
At this point, they have yet to figure out what the approach to examinations will be.
“That’s the next big challenge that we’re dealing with but right now we want to mitigate risk associated with the current pandemic we’re dealing with so health and safety is our top priority,” Abrahams said.