University Of Washington First To Close Classrooms In Response To Coronavirus

A school employee "received a presumptive positive test" for COVID-19 on Friday.

The University of Washington will hold classes remotely until the end of March in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Seattle area, including one “presumptive positive” case involving a staff member, school officials announced Friday.

According to an email sent to all UW students, faculty and staff Friday morning, “classes will no longer meet in person” and faculty and staff will conduct classes and exams “remotely, as possible” and “online when feasible” starting Monday until March 20, the end of the winter quarter. In-person classes are expected to resume on March 30.

School facilities will remain open. The school also recommended “social distancing” for student groups and events.

“In-person classes qualify as events, and the sizes of our classrooms do not generally allow for social distancing,” school officials said in the email to explain the shift to remote classes.

Spring on the University of Washington campus on March 20, 2018, in Seattle. 
Spring on the University of Washington campus on March 20, 2018, in Seattle. 

Officials at the school, the first university in the U.S. to close classrooms in response to the coronavirus outbreak, said they made the decision in consultation with health officials. The main campus of UW, Washington state’s flagship public university, is located in Seattle, where a number of COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. More than 10 deaths have been connected to a long-term care facility in the suburbs of Seattle. 

As of Friday morning, Washington state had 75 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 14 deaths as a result of the outbreak.

The same day, UW officials announced one “presumptive positive” case involving a staff member at the university’s Seattle campus.

The employee “is in self-isolation at home” and the building where the employee works has been closed for cleaning. Everyone in close contact with the employee has been asked to self-quarantine for two weeks, school officials said, emphasizing that “the risk to the broader Seattle campus community from this case is believed to be low.” The sick employee is “believed to have had limited contact with anyone outside of their immediate office floor.”

School officials urged everyone’s “maximum flexibility” for accommodating students’ needs and navigating “significant challenges.”

“We recognize that these actions may create significant challenges for faculty, staff and students, and we ask for your understanding as we respond to events as they unfold,” the statement read. “We know these are challenging times, and that we are asking a lot of you in terms of flexibility, creativity and goodwill as we all strive to conclude this quarter successfully.”