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All Penn State classes to be temporarily held online due to coronavirus concerns

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All classes at Penn State Harrisburg and at all other campuses throughout the Penn State University system will be provided remotely starting Monday, March 16, due to concerns over the coronavirus, university President Eric J. Barron announced Wednesday.

Classes will be provided on a remote learning basis, instead of in person, through Friday, April 3. The university plans to resume in-person classes on Monday, April 6, at the earliest, Barron said in a letter to the Penn State University community posted on the main Penn State website.

“All in-person classes, seminars and labs will be delivered remotely for students at every campus location,” Barron said.

Students have been out on spring break since March 8. Spring break is to end on March 14, however, the university is urging students not return to campus until in-person classes resume.

“During this three-week period following spring break, undergraduate and graduate students at all campus locations are strongly discouraged from returning to campus, off-campus locations, and group dwellings (e.g., apartments and fraternities), and should return to, or remain at, home during this time period,” Barron said in the letter.

The university will remain open for faculty and staff during this period.

Everything in Barron’s letter applies to Penn State Harrisburg, campus spokeswoman Yvonne Harhigh told the Press & Journal.

“The College of Medicine will soon announce consistent protocols that reflect the unique mission of that unit and its relationship with the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Health,” Barron said.

Penn State Harrisburg with about 5,000 students is the second largest campus in the Penn State University system, exceeded only by University Park.

Penn State Harrisburg also has a large number of international students - about 700 as of the 2017-18 school year - many of whom may still be on campus during spring break and may not be able to return home.

Barron in his letter said that Penn State will work “on an individual basis to make special visit or housing arrangements” with international students who are already on campus, and students who must return to campus “due to extenuating and/or compelling circumstances.

These students are being urged to contact their campus housing office at hfs.psu.edu/campuses, Barron said in the letter.

Residence halls and campus dining facilities will not be reopened for normal operation during this remote-learning period - beyond the facilities that are already in use, according to Barron’s letter.

All on-campus student-sponsored events and activities, such as student organization meetings, will be postponed or canceled until April 6 at the earliest, Barron said.

The letter urges that “all non-essential events” be canceled, rescheduled or offered virtually through April 6, regardless of the size of the event. No new non-essential events should be scheduled. For any essential events expected to have more than 50 attendees, approval must be sought from University Provost Nick Jones.

Barron said there are no known cases of coronavirus at University Park or at any of Penn State’s campuses at this time.

However, there are currently more than 1,000 cases nationwide, including in Pennsylvania, “and we anticipate this figure will continue to grow.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as of 3 p.m. today, there are a total of 15 cases in the commonwealth – 13 which are presumptive positive and 2 confirmed. 

There aren't any cases in Dauphin County. Effected counties include Bucks, Delaware, Monroe, Wayne, Philadelphia and Montgomery, which has the largest number of cases at 9. 

“The best mechanism for prevention based on advice from experts is social distancing, and unfortunately that is very difficult in a university setting,” Barron said in the letter. “We fully understand these changes will cause disruptions in your day-to-day lives; Penn State’s decision was made out of an abundance of caution and with your health and the well-being of our entire community in mind, and as Pennsylvania is currently under a state of emergency.”

Noting the “unprecedented challenges” the coronavirus is posing the world over, Barron said “If there was ever a ‘We Are’ moment, this is it. We need to come together in the full spirit of the phrase, support one another and stand up for what we believe: the importance of community.”

Reporter Laura Hayes contributed to this report.