Drew University in Madison on Tuesday announced it’s canceling on-campus classes and events and switching to virtual instruction as a precaution against the novel coronavirus.
Drew’s decision comes on a day when the state confirmed its first COVID-19 death, and as Rutgers and Montclair state universities also opted to go virtual. It follows Gov. Murphy’s declaration of a state of emergency on Monday, and closures of Princeton and Harvard universities.
“We recognize this situation may cause inconvenience, anxiety, and disappointment within our community, but the potential consequences of not acting at this time far outweigh the disruptions in the short term. We strongly believe our actions today will give us the best chance to decrease risk in our community,” Drew spokesman Stuart Dezenhall said in a statement.
No cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — have been reported at Drew or in Morris County. But 15 presumed cases have been identified across New Jersey, and a 69-year-old Bergen County man with other underlying medical conditions succumbed to COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, state officials said.
Drew classes are canceled for the rest of the week. Starting on Monday, March 16, 2020, and for the next three weeks, through Friday, April 3, Drew will practice “social distancing,” moving to virtual instruction and primarily remote business operations, Dezenhall said.
All campus events and gatherings are postponed, including the Drew Forum, admissions, student clubs, and rental events. Work-related events and meetings will be conducted remotely, Dezenhall said.
All NCAA athletics practices and games will continue, according to guidance from the Landmark Conference.
Drew residence halls and other community services will stay open for students who choose to remain on campus. No guests will be allowed in residence halls. Nonessential staff are asked to work remotely on Thursday and Friday; normal business practices will resume Monday in a “modified, remote way,” Dezenhall said.
Students were informed of the changes via email from the university.
Erin Heller, a senior, said she initially was relieved that her schoolwork could be pushed to next week. But there also was some confusion about whether students remaining on campus could visit Madison, or fulfill community service requirements, she said.
“The biggest thing is that I’m worried that these new policies may affect my ability to graduate, and the email didn’t say too much to address those concerns,” Heller said.
Freshman Emma Downer expressed surprise at how swiftly Drew shut down classes.
“The fact that campus is still open, though, is a little confusing, if they want to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” Downer said. “But I also thought about international students: If they were told to move off campus and return home, many would be returning to China or Europe, where the virus is very prominent.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade still was a go for Saturday in Morristown. Boston canceled its weekend parade, and the Republic of Ireland has nixed all of its St. Patrick’s Day parades in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
Morristown Green correspondent Olivia Yepez (Drew ’22) contributed to this report.