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'It’s all very confusing': Harvard closes campus amid coronavirus fears

Aarthi Swaminathan
·Reporter
·4 min read

This post has been updated.

On Tuesday, Harvard University told its students to vacate the campus by Sunday and not return from spring break amid the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Massachusetts saw a sharp increase of coronavirus cases on Tuesday, leading Governor Charlie Baker to declare a state of emergency.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Starting March 23, Harvard will be transitioning to “virtual instruction” for both graduates and undergraduates, the university’s president Lawrence Bacow said in a statement.

“For the business school, it’s shifting to all online classes after the end of this week,” a graduate student told Yahoo Finance. “Technically there’s a spring break, but there’s a strong discouragement against international travel.”

A student carries a box to her dorm at Harvard University after the school asked its students not to return to campus after Spring Break in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., March 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
A student carries a box to her dorm at Harvard University after the school asked its students not to return to campus after Spring Break in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., March 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The student, who is graduating this semester, added that his graduation ceremony is also not looking likely, as the university is discouraging gatherings of groups with more than 25 people.

“It’s all very confusing,” he added.

And while other schools are also pivoting to online instruction, Harvard is taking the aggressive step of asking its undergraduate students to move out of dorms “no later than March 15 at 5 p.m.” (Other schools followed suit.)

Some students expressed their frustration online at being asked to vacate so suddenly.

Others were seen to be a little more upbeat, taking the news in stride.

In the past, despite snow storms and hurricanes, the university had been very reluctant to cancel classes. In 1977, a former dean once said that “Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world.”

The school currently has no confirmed cases of the virus and has a spring break coming up as per schedule next week.

For students caught off guard by this announcement, Harvard has also put up a frequently asked questions list, which addressed some financial issues that they may be dealing with.

But most of the answers revolved around “still working on the details” and asked students to “be patient” while the financial aid office figures it out.

In the meantime, the university’s graduate students’ union has also raised a number of concerns regarding the closure, including whether the university was going to give them paid sick leave and whether international students were going to be able to maintain their visa status if the college pivoted online, among others.

“While our members and workers across campus adapt to rapidly changing working conditions, it is the responsibility of the university to minimize financial uncertainty for these individuals and to ensure that everyone can follow appropriate public health measures,” they stated.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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