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Casper College to pivot to virtual classes after Thanksgiving amid community COVID-19 surge
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Casper College to pivot to virtual classes after Thanksgiving amid community COVID-19 surge

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Students read and study outside a classroom at Strausner Hall in Casper College in February. 

Casper College will transition to majority remote classes after Thanksgiving, college president Darren Divine told students Wednesday via email.

Following an extended Thanksgiving break, the school will switch most academic disciplines to online classes for the final two weeks of school and finals week.

Divine listed four reasons for the change, all hinging around growing COVID-19 numbers statewide and in Natrona County.

The first goal of switching to remote classes to end the semester is to “assist local health providers and agencies.”

“Local health services are being stretched thin due to the recent increase in COVID cases,” the email reads. “Reducing the density of in-person classes will help ensure our campus does not contribute to those increasing pressures.”

The second goal is to relax density in the school’s residence halls. The final two goals are increased peace of mind and public perception.

“This pivot will allow us to maintain the commitment of a safe learning environment for our students and employees, while also doing our part to assist our local health providers,” the email reads.

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The email stresses that the decision was not being mandated from any outside source. It also said “this is not a crisis situation, nor a harbinger of things to come,” going on to inform students the spring semester is still planned to be held in-person, beginning Jan. 19.

The shift to virtual classes won’t affect academic courses that rely on face-to-face instruction, such as auto mechanics classes, fine arts programs and laboratory settings. The email suggests consulting individual deans and department chairs to determine which specific classes will move online after Thanksgiving.

The news comes after active cases on the college campus jumped from 11 to 40 in a single week between Oct. 9 and Oct. 16. The school releases current COVID-19 numbers once a week, on Friday afternoon.

Spokesperson for the college Chris Lorenzen told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday the increase in cases was not due to any specific outbreak on campus, but rather that it mirrored increasing cases throughout the community. Lorenzen said Thursday the school’s move to remote classes after the holiday break was in part because of growing infections across the city.

Indeed, COVID-19 cases in Natrona County are on the rise. There were more than 300 cases of the virus in the county as of Wednesday.

Cases continue to surge elsewhere in the state as well. Albany County now leads the state in COVID-19 infections, with more than 400 lab-confirmed cases. Health officials have partly attributed the growing number of cases to students returning to the University of Wyoming.

The University Thursday announced five more positive cases were identified in McIntyre Hall, the same residence hall where four active cases were identified the first week of October. Students residing on the fourth floor of that building are now being asked to shelter in place. When four cases were identified on the third floor of the same building two weeks ago, students on that floor were also asked to shelter in place.

“Students on the floor who have not been in close contact with infected individuals are allowed to go to in-person classes and leave for work or religious activities,” the university’s release reads.

There were 117 active COVID-19 cases at the University Thursday morning — 111 off-campus students, 50 on-campus students and 16 employees. The University had 61 people quarantining as of Thursday, 11 of which are students on campus.

Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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