Washington State University

Washington State University has abandoned plans to hold in-person classes this fall, citing a recent surge in coronavirus infections and related deaths.

"Our fall 2020 semester at WSU Pullman will not be what we hoped, wanted or planned," WSU President Kirk Schulz and other administrators said in a statement Thursday. "Given the alarming rise in the number of COVID-19 cases regionally and nationally, all undergraduate courses at WSU Pullman will be delivered at a distance and will be completed remotely, with extremely limited exceptions for in-person instruction."

The announcement about the Pullman campus was signed by Schulz; Elizabeth Chilton, the university's new provost and executive vice president; and Mary Jo Gonzales, the vice president for student affairs.

Shortly afterward, WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer and Tri-Cities Chancellor Sandra Haynes said their campuses also will go entirely online with few exceptions.

Kim Papich, a spokeswoman for WSU's Spokane campus, said courses there will remain primarily online with exceptions for labs and simulation courses. Spokane is home to the university's medical school, nursing and pharmacy programs and other health sciences programs.

WSU in late June said it planned to start the fall semester with a mix of online and in-person courses before transitioning to an entirely online format for the brief period after Thanksgiving break -- a move intended to limit students' traveling and spreading of the virus. But circumstances have changed.

"We have seen what happens when this viral disease spreads unchecked. There is loss of human life. Inequitable health care systems have caused a disparate impact for Black, Latinx, lower-income and rural communities," Schulz and the other administrators said. "Some of our communities would not have sufficient local health care capacity, including the city of Pullman and Whitman County, should there be a widespread COVID-19 outbreak."

Fall classes are scheduled to begin on Aug. 24, and the administrators promised to announce plans for Pullman-based graduate students by Aug. 1.

University-owned apartments in Pullman will open as previously planned. Campus residence halls will open on Aug. 15, but only for students who "have a demonstrated institutional need and are approved to live on campus," the administrators said.

The campus health clinic will continue providing medical and mental health care.

Food service and recreational activities will be limited or hosted virtually.

Schulz and the other administrators urged students to continue pursuing their degrees from home, if possible, and said they understand the range of emotions their decision will bring.

"To our first-year Cougs, who have lost any semblance of a traditional senior year of high school and their first university experience; transfer students, who were eager to continue their education as Cougs; and our returning Cougs, who have worked hard to keep their community and peer relationships intact after a disrupted spring semester; we hear and see you."

Schulz will host a live "town hall" meeting on YouTube starting at 1 p.m. Friday. Questions can be submitted in advance. The chancellors of the Vancouver and Tri-Cities campuses plan to host separate informational sessions next week.

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(c)2020 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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