University of Washington moves classes online amid coronavirus concerns

The school plans to reopen classrooms for the spring quarter.

Beginning Monday, the University of Washington is moving all classes online for the remainder of the quarter as concerns grow over the new coronavirus.

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In a separate note sent to the university community on Friday, Geoffrey S. Gottlieb, interim chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, wrote that a university staff member received a presumptive positive test for COVID-19.

"The employee is in self-isolation at home, and we wish them the best in their recovery," the message added.

The building in which the staff member works, which is located off-campus, has since been closed for "appropriate cleaning until further notice," the message continued. At a press conference Friday afternoon, Gottlieb reported that the individual's last visit to the workplace was February 28.

Gottlieb added that the university does not think that any students had any direct, significant contact with this individual.

At the press conference, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce made clear that the decision to move classes online was made before the university became aware of this presumptive positive test result.

Victor Balta, senior director of Media Relations at the university, told ABC News the decision to move classes was made in accordance with public health agency advisories.

"As the virus is clearly spreading around the region, public health agencies have been advising folks to avoid bringing large groups of people together," Balta explained. "We felt this was a good proactive move we would take to help with the social distancing, and do our part to limit the spread in our region."

The university plans to resume "normal class operations" on March 30, when the spring quarter begins, according to a statement posted online.

The university will, however, continue consulting with public health experts to determine if classrooms should reopen by then.

"We're absolutely going to continue consulting with public health officials, our public health agency in Seattle, and our own medical experts for guidance," Balta explained. "If public health experts are encouraging us to change that, we'll adapt as necessary."

Cauce did, however, mention that the possibility of a temporary campus-closure is not unthinkable.

"I'll be very honest, we are also going through scenarios of how we would do distance education for a week or two," she explained at the press conference.

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the region and country, Gottlieb explained that the prospect of additional cases on campus is a valid concern.

"We don't obviously have a crystal ball; I think we do expect more cases to be seen in our community and on the campus as time goes on," Gottlieb explained at the press conference. "But I think we'll do everything we can to keep our critical missions going, including our health care centers, our research centers and continue to do everything we can to keep our students, staff and faculty safe."

University of Washington is a public university with more than 54,000 students spready over three campuses in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.

While classrooms will be closed until at least March 30, campuses will remain open "to serve all those who rely on our services," according to the school's statement. This includes hospitals, clinics, dining services, residence halls and recreation and athletic facilities.

"We're not telling people to go home, we're just shifting the education process online to avoid those group gatherings," Balta said. "We're encouraging instructors to provide maximum flexibility to do what's most fair for the students as the quarter comes to a close."

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