COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has taken the whole world by storm and it seems that Oklahoma State could get caught in the middle.
Leaders at OSU have been meeting to discuss future plans, and they already know what they need to do if necessary. In a campus announcement Tuesday, OSU President Burns Hargis detailed what that plan would look like.
“While no decision to do so has been made, we are exploring the possibility of moving our in-person classes at both Stillwater and Tulsa campuses online for two weeks following spring break as a contingency plan to protect our campus community as best we can,” Hargis said.
Hargis emphasized that the University has not made a decision at the Faculty Council meeting Tuesday. He said he is in close communication with the governor and the president of the University of Oklahoma as well as other significant advisers with medical expertise or knowledge of the University.
Rumors surfaced about possible cancellations at OSU and Glen Krutz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, all but confirmed the rumors in an email obtained by the O’Colly.
“I met with Provost Sandefur (Vice President of OSU) earlier this evening,” Krutz said in the email. “Conversations continue to occur at the highest levels of the university regarding university response to the spreading Coronavirus.
“At this point, to be ready for any eventuality those leaders might choose going forward, I direct each department head to assure that each of their spring 2020 instructors have a familiarity with Canvas and Zoom.”
The University has so far responded to the virus with a travel ban, canceling study abroad trips for spring break. Students doing their spring semester study in Italy have returned to campus and were cleared by health officials. There are still students remaining in Japan on a long term study abroad, and they were reached out to and were encouraged to return back to the US.
President Hargis' announcement said all university-sponsored international travel will be suspended until further notice effective Friday. The exceptions are three spring break study abroad trips travelling to South America.
The study abroad office is working with airlines to get refunds for students’ purchased tickets, but it hasn't been consistently successful. However, fees the University can refund are being refunded.
Hargis said a campus closure would not include the closure of dorms or food services; it would only affect classes.
Leaders and health officials of Oklahoma State are monitoring the situation closely and with caution. The worry expressed at the Faculty Council meeting was that the situation could be much different in a few days, so it’s hard to give an answer now.
“We don't know,” Hargis said. “It’s a very unclear path we’re on.”
Originating in Huanan Seafood Market in December, it did not take long for the coronavirus to spread globally. Coronavirus is highly contagious but survivable; of the 80,000 cases in China, 60,000 people have survived. But for the elderly or people who have respiratory issues, it can be deadly.
As of Tuesday, there are 754 coronavirus cases in the U.S., which is far less than comparable nations when it comes to total cases per million people. According to The Atlantic, the United States has tested 4,384 people as of Monday, weeks after the virus was found there.
To put this into context, South Korea had tested over 100,000 people by this point in their outbreak, including 15,000 people per day. The U.K., who has half as many cases as America, has tested 25,000 people.
Many schools, including the University of Oklahoma, have considered moving to online classes after spring break because of how contagious COVID-19 is. Other schools like Harvard University and Stanford University have already stopped in-person classes.
Unless coronavirus disappears over spring break, Oklahoma State will likely move to online classes for at least one week, probably more.