The University of Wyoming will extend its spring break by a week and will then make a decision about whether to move all of its coursework online in the latest move to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The announcement comes less than 24 hours after Wyoming health officials announced the Equality State had confirmed its first case of the virus here. There are no other suspected or confirmed cases in Wyoming as of Thursday morning, and the patient in Sheridan is isolated and doing well. Those who were in contact with her have been approached by health officials.
UW’s spring break begins next week and will now continue through the week of March 23. The semester will not be extended.
Students who return to campus will still be able to access residence halls and food services. The university remains open for everything but classes, and staff are still expected to go to work. Those who can do work remotely should speak with their vice president, according to a UW announcement sent to the campus Thursday afternoon.
The announcement was anticipated, and the university was one of many institutions statewide that had already prepared for it. UW had already begun laying the groundwork to move its classes online should it be needed; professors were instructed to update their grade books should they become ill and to loosen their attendance policies to accommodate illnesses and quarantines. It previously canceled overseas study abroad trips and urged students to avoid traveling to coronavirus hot spots.
“The extended break is designed to provide time for faculty to better prepare for online-only teaching should it become necessary,” the university wrote. “We will continually monitor the situation and make a decision about moving more fully to online classes. As mentioned in yesterday’s communication, students are advised to take with them any materials they might need to resume instruction in an online format.”
The week will be spent working with faculty to develop, redesign and deliver courses through “distance modalities.” The school will also develop a survey to send to students to gauge what they may need should classes go online.
Laramie sits close to the state’s border with Colorado, where cases have exploded in recent days and the governor previously declared a state of emergency. Nationwide, there have been more than 1,200 confirmed cases and roughly 40 deaths, including one in South Dakota. Vice President Mike Pence said that he expects thousands of more cases in the United States, and a health official testified earlier this week that the situation will deteriorate here.
As the virus has spread across the nation, other universities have moved classes entirely online or closed campuses. In sports, the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS have suspended games, which comes after sporting events in Europe have been halted or played with no fans in attendance.
The university is not the only Wyoming institution to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus, which is a respiratory illness characterized by cough, fever and shortness of breath. Also on Thursday, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department ordered the cancellation of the state basketball tournament in Casper.
Despite the spread and the response by Wyoming officials, infectious disease experts have urged calm here. Because of Wyoming’s rural nature, which isolates residents from high-population centers and from other Wyomingites, officials say the risk of widespread infection is relatively low. But that also makes Laramie unique, in that students are set to travel as part of spring break and because of its proximity to Colorado.
Officials say that anyone who travels to COVID-19 hot spots or who have contact with an infected person should seek treatment from a health care provider. But those who don’t meet those criteria should not. People are encouraged to avoid large crowds, to wash their hands regularly, to avoid touching their face and to avoid unnecessary travel to areas where the virus is prevalent.
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Potential COVID-19 patients calling into Wyoming Medical Center's various primary and acute care clinics will be directed to the facility, which will be run by the hospital's chief of staff.
"Sports is important to our kids and it keeps things normal," Kelly Walsh boys soccer coach Bryan Chadderdon said. "If we can keep things as normal as possible and still be safe then I think we should do that."
Officials are examining whether at least one student was exposed to coronavirus at an extracurricular event in Wyoming, though experts say it's most likely that the unidentified illness is not the contagious virus.
Two people in the Northern Wyoming Community College District — a student and a faculty member — are being quarantined for a minimum of two weeks.
Gov. Mark Gordon said that officials still believe the overall risk of infection for Wyomingites remains low.
We have adjusted our list of closures and cancellations to reflect the state's new orders that close many businesses and forbid gatherings of 10 or more people.
One day after Wyoming's first coronavirus case was announced, public events closed and the shelves of local supermarkets were empty.
The executive director of the county health department said it was important to be proactive in calling off the tournament so that COVID-19 "doesn't wipe out our entire community."
The change is not anticipated to interfere with any of the traditional functions of the caucus itself.
The sharp shock to energy markets could hit U.S. shale producers particularly hard, and many in Wyoming have already braced for the fallout.
At least one Wyoming lawmaker had a direct interaction with American Conservative Union executive director Matt Schlapp, who said he had a brief interaction with the individual who tested positive.
The university wrote that the school "needs to be prepared should some students, staff and faculty on our campus be ill or under quarantine in the coming weeks and months."
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