BYU starting to move classes online as COVID-19 spreads

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Read also: BYU cancels classes March 13-17 due to COVID-19

Read in Spanish: BYU empezando a trasladar clases en línea mientras el COVID-19 se propaga

This story was updated on March 12 at 2 p.m.

Universities around the world are moving classes online as COVID-19 continues to spread. While BYU hasn’t made the switch altogether, measures are being taken to protect students and faculty from a potential outbreak. 

So far there are three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah according to the Utah Department of Health. (Hannah Miner)

BYU Risk Management and Safety’s recommendation to faculty includes making more use of online learning management systems and working with students who have been exposed to or are affected by COVID-19, according to a coronavirus FAQ for BYU faculty. For now, faculty are to stay home if they feel sick and should encourage students who feel sick to stay home and contact the Utah Department of Health if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19. 

“There are plans in place for business continuity and safety,” BYU said in a tweet on March 9 in response to a BYU student’s inquiry as to what would happen if the virus spread to the BYU campus. “This includes alternative learning options in the event class schedules are disrupted, monitoring critical supply chains, considering flexible employment options, and evaluating safety for large-scale gatherings on campus.”

BYU tweeted that plans are in place in the event COVID-19 spread to campus. (Erika Magaoay)

Though the BYU Risk Management and Safety team has not confirmed if or at what point in-person classes would transition to online, some colleges are already taking preparatory action. 

BYU College of Life Sciences Dean James Porter said all deans have been asked to visit the Risk Management webpage for the latest information about BYU’s response to the coronavirus. BYU Academic Vice President Shane Reese has encouraged deans to refer to the FAQ for how to respond to the virus, Porter said.

In a survey of 8 BYU deans, most confirmed that they have informed faculty and staff of the University’s recommendations, and six are forming a potential response plan specific to their college.

BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications Dean Ed Adams said the college’s performance council is reviewing performance alternatives, but no recommendations have come forward. Next week the college’s department chair will meet to discuss the challenges the virus is presenting, he said.

College of Family, Home and Social Sciences Dean Ben Ogles said the college is preparing training for faculty in the video communications software Zoom in the event of a quarantine.

“Of course, some faculty will use other applications or the learning management systems depending on their preferences, but we wanted to prepare at least one option for those who do not have alternatives,” Ogles said. He added that he is also encouraging faculty to consider the necessity of any travel during this time. 

Jordyn Crowley Watts, the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering communications manager, said technology support staff throughout the college are becoming equipped to train faculty on video-conferencing tools like Zoom in case the University cancels on-campus classes.

“The College of Engineering’s goal is to be prepared so no measure of quality is lost in such an eventuality,” Watts said. 

College of Humanities Dean Scott Miller wrote in an email to College of Humanities faculty that the health of faculty and students is the top priority. He asked faculty to exercise pedagogical license in allowing exceptions in attendance policy to discourage ill students from attending class, take advantage of technological resources to reduce the likelihood of ill individuals spreading disease, practice basic hygiene and consider having a 14-day supply of food and necessities available in case the need to self-quarantine arises.  

“Use your best judgment as we confront the risk of contagion and encourage others to do likewise,” Miller said in the email.

Other schools like The McKay School for Education have not created a plan specific to their schools. “We will implement BYU’s recommendations if we get to that point,” Dean Mary Anne Prater said. 

Dean of Students Sarah Westerberg said BYU’s Incident Management Team working to adequately address the threat of COVID-19.

“BYU’s Incident Management Team is meeting regularly to ensure the safety and heath of students and employees and to prepare campus for a potential outbreak of COVID-19,” Westerberg said.

In an email to BYU clubs, BYUSA announced the discontinuation of club activities and events, including Clubs Night, and Clubs Showcase, until further notice.

“In keeping with direction we have received, we will not sponsor club gatherings, and will ask that students follow the directives we have received from State and Church officials,” the email reads.

This is a developing story; it will be updated as more information becomes available.

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