Wilkes University announces move to remote learning due to COVID-19

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Madison Hummer

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Kirsten Peters, Co-Sports Editor

COVID-19.

Five letters and two numbers have been the crux of conversations across the globe, and Wilkes University is no exception. With the unpredictability of COVID-19, Wilkes University has suspended all face-to-face classes starting at 5 p.m. today. 

“When campus leaders started meeting about COVID-19 several weeks ago, we could not predict the impact it would have on a global scale. And, I think we have all come to understand that we have no idea yet how this will impact our local community,” said interim president Dr. Paul S. Adams in his official statement to the university on March 12. “This is an unprecedented situation and one that requires our ongoing attention, patience and diligence.”

Faculty will be responsible for transitioning their in-person classes to remote learning formats during the week of March 19. By the following Monday, all professors and students are expected to have their courses underway. 

Courses will continue to be taught through online applications until Friday, April 3. At that point, Wilkes will reassess the situation. 

“It is our hope that we will be able to return to face-to-face instruction on April 6; however, that will depend on campus and community conditions and guidance from state and local health officials,” said Adams. 

Currently, there are no known or suspected cases of COVID-19 at Wilkes University. Considering COVID-19 is an airborne virus that affects the respiratory system, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can be difficult to prevent the virus’ contraction in large group settings. As a result, the university has decided to take the following precautions:

Residence halls will close at 5 p.m. on Sunday, two days after classes have been suspended. Those with extenuating circumstances that make leaving campus difficult will undergo an approval process for remaining in their residence hall for a longer period of time.

Dining options will be affected as well, with Friday being the last normal day of operation for all dining locations. Henry’s Dining Room will adjust its hours to 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Starbucks will be the only other location open on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other locations – Rifkin Café, the POD and Greens to Go – will be closed starting on Saturday. 

Starting the week of March 16, the Henry Dining Room will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for students, faculty and staff. All other locations will be closed until further notice. Flex dollars will continue to be accepted at off-campus restaurants if these establishments choose to remain open. 

In order to limit mass interaction, Wilkes has suspended all university-sponsored events through April 5 and all University-sponsored travel until further notice. 

All athletic contests under the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) have been cancelled through March 30. Student-athletes and coaches will be contacted with more information. 

How are students and faculty in the scientific community reacting?

With all the talk about COVID-19, it should come as no surprise that Wilkes’ science department has been increasingly interested in the situation. 

“Based on what I have been reading in the scientific literature, and speaking with medical professionals, I fully agree that the amount of attention being given to the virus is warranted,” said Dr. Kenneth Klemow, chair of the Department of Biology and Health Sciences. “The biggest problem is that only a small fraction of the population has been tested, so we don’t know the scope of the spread of the virus at this time.

“This outbreak is having a profound impact on the scientific community. I suspect that it will raise the profile of virology and community health within academic institutions and scientific organizations.”

Klemow wasn’t the only member of Wilkes’ biology community to express concerns, as Professor Debra Chapman changed the entire lesson plan for her BIO 105 class on Wednesday night to discuss COVID-19 and the pandemic facing the globe. 

“The main reason I chose to cover COVID-19 was because of the lack of education in our country regarding the virus,” Chapman said. “The more we know, and the better we understand the virus, the better we will be at slowing its spread and developing the vaccine and medication we need to fight it.” 

In three months the virus has escalated from an epidemic to a pandemic – a delineation characterized by the vastness of the virus’ spread to all continents besides Antarctica. 

Slowing the spread of the virus is paramount. In order to do so, Klemow and Chapman emphasized the importance of one simple task: hand washing. Although simple, it could be the difference between getting infected or not. 

“My best piece of advice is to frequently wash with soap because it breaks up the virus,” Klemow said.

There is a difference that needs to be known about soap and hand sanitizer: soap is always antimicrobial and hand sanitizer is generally antibacterial, meaning they don’t complete the same function. Soap can break up a virus, whereas an antibacterial sanitizer cannot attack a virus.

Hence, soap is the answer for preventing COVID-19.

“Someone called to my attention a skit that Ellen (DeGeneres) did on hand washing,” said Chapman. “Of course, it’s funny, but she does cover all the points well. There is a lot to hand washing, including the time that should be taken to do it correctly. And, not touching your face – that’s important. As I said to my class, it’s estimated that a person touches his face five to 30 times an hour.”

Not only can individuals get infected, but they can infect others who are immunocompromised. 

“Young people need to realize that although they might get infected and have a mild reaction to the virus, they are quite capable of infecting others who are not as well or not as young and therefore may not be able to handle the infection,” Chapman said. 

Additional misconceptions include the symptoms that distinguish the virus as well as how dangerous COVID-19 is because of the substantial amount of information still being learned about it. 

“Get your information from reliable sources,” urged Klemow. “This afternoon, I was listening to a local call-in show on the radio, and the hosts made the point that coronavirus, the common cold and the flu all have the same symptoms – which is incorrect.  Based on the comments following news articles on The Citizens’ Voice website, lots of people are profoundly misinformed about the risk associated with the virus.”

Both professors agreed with Wilkes’ decision to transfer classes online for a period of time. Safety is of the utmost concern, which is why reducing close, interpersonal interactions in confined spaces is a logical step. 

How are other campuses reacting? 

Prior to Wilkes’ suspension of face-to-face classes, neighboring King’s College and Misericordia University released statements from their respective presidents on March 11 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

King’s President Fr. Jack Ryan decided upon the earliest closing strategy, ceasing traditional in-person class operations effective the evening of March 11. According to a message from the university released on March 11, “In-person classes will resume for the college through distance learning on Thursday, March 19. This will continue through Easter Break, which ends on Monday, April 13.” 

Misericordia, on the other hand, required students, faculty and staff to finish the remainder of this week. President Thomas J. Botzman stated that face-to-face instruction will cease as of 5 p.m. on March 15, including courses taught at Luzerne County Community College. 

The university will undergo a mini-break from face-to-face classes on March 16 and 17. By March 18, classes will be moved to online/remote learning. 

All Penn State locations will transition in-person classes, seminars and labs to remote applications beginning on March 16. According to President Eric J. Barron, classes will be conducted in this manner until April 6, at the earliest. The university will remain open, however, strictly for faculty and staff.

As per president Richard M. Englert’s statement, Temple University will end in-person instruction today through the end of the spring semester. Online and alternative learning methods will begin on March 16. 

Where to go for information?

For more information about Wilkes University’s response and continual updates, individuals should visit www.wilkes.edu/coronavirus. 

To look into the disease and warnings, individuals should visit the CDC website, specifically www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.