In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, schools across the country are adjusting their schedules and courses. Among them is Harvard, the Ivy League institution that on Tuesday (March 10) announced that it would be moving to a "virtual" class schedule by March 23, when both the graduate and undergraduate schools return from spring break. Students have been asked "not to return to campus" until instructed otherwise.
"The goal of these changes is to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with each other in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings," a statement by Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow reads. "Our actions are consistent with the recommendations of leading health officials on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 and are also consistent with similar decisions made by a number of our peer institutions. The campus will remain open and operations will continue with appropriate measures to protect the health of the community."
There will be additional resources for any students who might be experiencing houselessness, cannot travel to an impacted country, or who otherwise feel they cannot afford to leave campus, Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane told MTV News. (Homelessness affects an estimated 68,000 students nationwide; an additional one in three students nationwide are food insecure.)
"We're working individually with students to meet their needs and to assess that and better understand whether they can go somewhere else and then provide financial assistance and get them there if they're on some sort of financial aid at Harvard," she explained, directing MTV News to the FAQ that was published alongside President Bacow's statement. "Students will have a place to be if they need it."
According to the Harvard Crimson, the school has already canceled a number of other planned events and is prohibiting people from gathering in groups of 25 or more. They join Amherst College, Columbia University, and several schools in California and Washington in augmenting class schedules for a digital learning experience.
Per a local CBS affiliate in Boston, at least 41 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Massachusetts. That number likely has more to do with the lack of ability to test people than a slowing of the contagion, The Atlantic notes. So far, the United States is significantly behind other countries, like South Korea and Italy, when it comes to testing residents. Even Vice President Mike Pence, whom President Donald Trump appointed to lead the charge against the virus, recently admitted, "We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward."
For now, there is plenty you can do to protect yourself and those around you. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, and try to stay home if you feel sick and are able to work or study remotely. It's also important to combat xenophobia and racism when and where you see it, and to make time for your mental health as well.
"Anyone feeling anxious or overwhelmed can reach out to friends or family for support and to mental health services that are available on campus," Dr. Emily Hyle, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told MTV News.