University of Virginia Newcomb hall

Many hallways are deserted at the University of Virginia, which is currently on spring break, on Wednesday. The university announced that it would shift classes online amid a global outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia is the latest higher education institution to shift classes online as officials ask institutions to batten down the hatches in the face of a widening pandemic.

Wednesday afternoon, the university sent a memo to students, staff and faculty that no classes would be held on Grounds "for the foreseeable future, quite possibly through the end of the semester," as the country and Virginia battle the novel coronavirus.

No cases have yet been confirmed in central Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health, and UVa originally hoped to let students return to Grounds and make it through the semester without a local case, but officials said they felt such a move would create too much risk to local resources. 

Online classes will begin March 19, according to the university, effectively extending the typical weeklong Spring Break, which began Saturday.

"Put simply, UVa has never encountered something quite like this," President Jim Ryan said in the memo. "There is no roadmap for trying to put most of the university curriculum online in a week."

Ryan emphasized that the university and its hospital will remain open, and that students who cannot return home will be able to stay in university housing. He also said that students on financial aid who need help returning to their hometowns will receive financial assistance.

Students who are away on spring break are strongly encouraged to return home or to remain home if they are already there; students who are in town are strongly encouraged to return home by this weekend. People who need to return to UVa to collect belongings will be able to do so.

University events with more than 100 people are prohibited for the foreseeable future and should be postponed, cancelled or offered virtually. UVa has already asked staff to restrict domestic and international travel in order to avoid spreading or coming into contact with the virus.

Athletics and events at the John Paul Jones Arena, however, will move forward as planned for the time being, according to the university, but restrictions "remain under discussion and consideration."

Faculty will hear more from school deans about how to move classes online and how to receive necessary training and technology; the university said "some research will be put on hold," but core research will hopefully continue.

"For the time being," according to the university, staff should continue reporting to work as usual. 

Some faculty and staff may be able to telework; it is not currently clear how many employees the university estimates are able to telework.

Virginia so far has nine confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In a news conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Ralph Northam sought to reassure residents and said he was not yet ready to declare a state of emergency.

Other major universities across the country, including Harvard University, Columbia University and Princeton University, have announced that they would shift some or all of instruction online and close various parts of campus down; UVa is the first Virginia university to make the move.

UVa has launched a new website designed to keep the public informed about its response to COVID-19.

UVa Health also has created a website about the virus, with information for patients including frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, steps to protect health and where to find additional information.

"UVa Health's Epidemiology and Emergency Management teams have together developed a response plan. The plan is being updated regularly based on the latest updated from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Our goal is to protect the health of our patients and team members and quickly identify anyone who may need to be tested for the coronavirus," according to a statement on the website.

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