This is a developing story that will be updated periodically as the Kernel learns more about UK's continued responses to COVID-19.
UK announced Wednesday that it will suspend in-person instruction for at least the two weeks immediately following spring break.
Online classes will begin on Monday, March 23, and will continue until Friday, April 3. The university plans to resume regular, in-person classes on April 6.
"It’s a dynamic situation, we’re going to be telling our faculty and working with our faculty to be prepared to do perhaps more, but our goal is to try to be back with in-class instruction on April 6. Staff operations will remain as normal, our healthcare enterprise, our research enterprise will continue to operate just as they operate now,” said UK Spokesperson Jay Blanton.
For those students who have concerns about access to the appropriate technology for online instruction UK says it will continue to work through those problems in the coming days.
“We’re going to be contacting students, reaching out to students trying to understand if people are going to places where access might be more limited. We are going to work with students down to the individual level to make sure that we’re not compromising their learning,” said Blanton. The information technology office will be working through access issues."
A survey sent out through email to students asks if students expect adequate access at home.
Classes with in-person components, such as labs:
Some UK professors were notified last week about the possibility of ceasing in-person instruction and were given the opportunity to fill out a survey about how their courses could be best modified to an online setting.
“They think they’ll be able to adjust for those classes that have labs and make the kind of adjustments they need to,” said Blanton. “Those are the kinds of the things over the next couple of days we’ll be working through and communicating with students about.”
During the university's hiatus from in-person instruction, campus will remain open and some residence halls will continue to accommodate students.
“We anticipate that many, if not most, students will go home for that three-week period so we wanted to go ahead and make this announcement today to give them and their families time if they wanted to take more belongings with them, clothes and other items," Blanton said Wednesday. "But we anticipate that some students for a lot of reasons will want to stay or need to stay, and we’re going to make accommodations for that."
Decisions about which dining halls and other campus spaces will remain open are expected to be made in the days preceding spring break, according to UK officials. However, both the William T. Young Library and the Gatton Student Center are expected to remain open.
UK will initiate a "deep clean" of the campus over the spring break, but no details have been released on what that will consist of.
Staff operations are expected to remain the same in the coming weeks, but Blanton acknowledged that exceptions will be made to "maximize flexibility" with student workers employed by the university.
"We are not going to expect folks to be on campus when we’ve got that period of time," said Blanton. "We also know some students are going to want to continue to work, so we’re going to work with students...This step was not taken with the idea of finances being first, clearly."
Professors will have the “option of being here on campus to deliver instruction through online or other kind of modalities or could do it from home,” according to Blanton.
“We have built over the last couple of years a much more robust capacity for online instruction, so they’ll have multiple options to do that," he said.
All university sponsored or endorsed travel has been suspended indefinitely, and last night UK encouraged students to carefully consider any upcoming domestic and international travel in an all-campus email.
UK has announced that "all travelers arriving from Europe and Japan will be required to self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival in the U.S. before they will be allowed to return to campus." The names and contact information of these travelers will be shared with UK HealthCare, who will follow up with them individually with additional guidance, according to UK's Coronavirus FAQ website.
Last night, UK announced it had started contacting the 87 UK students who are studying abroad in Europe, and is "helping them make arrangements to return immediately to the United States."
Dr. Sue Roberts, associate provost for Internationalization, said at a press conference on March 13 that some students were already home and that upon return, students were going to their permanent addresses.
"In every case, they are working with our university of healthcare professionals, and in particular Kimberly Blanton, on a protocol," said Roberts.
Blanton, nursing operations administrator for infectious diseases, said her office was calling all students and setting up a link for these students to track their daily temperature and symptoms.
Roberts said university policy is to help with flights in the case that a return is mandated by UK.
She said the majority of the students were studying in Spain, and some in France in Germany.
"I think that they'll all be back by Sunday or Monday," said Roberts. "And really there's just a few stragglers coming in Sunday or Monday."
She said the return process has been "very difficult" for travel arrangements and heart-breaking for the students "having the time of their lives."
"They understand why this is happening, but I think it took a while for that to sink in," said Roberts. She said traveling difficulties were severe on Wednesday night as Americans scrambled for flights, but that all students now have tickets for flights home.
Roberts said they would be making a decision on summer study abroad programs by Friday, March 20.
Earlier this week, UK officials asked students to notify the university of their Spring Break travel plans by filling out a voluntary form "so we can support returning travelers and safeguard our community as much as possible."
The survey amounted over 3000 submissions in the 48 hours immediately following its release, according to Blanton. That data was a motivating factor in the administration's decision to halt in-person instruction, Blanton said.
"When we started to get the numbers around numbers of students traveling—where they were traveling to, and our faculty and staff as well, but mostly students—and then thinking about that creates a higher likelihood for contracting the transmission of the virus. Can we create a window of time where we can kind of manage that," said Blanton.
The fate of many of UK's scheduled events remain uncertain, and will be evaluated on a case by case basis, according to administrators.
“There’s no absolute 100% research out there that tells you what’s a level of people you want to have or not have,” said Blanton.
Thursday, the Southeastern Conference announced it would discontinue the remainder of its men's basketball tournament, in which UK was seeded the number one overall seed.
The NCAA announced yesterday that March Madness would be cancelled, following the cancellation of the SEC and ACC tournaments as well as the suspension of the NBA season.
UK officials have maintained that in the coming days they will seek to continue communication with the UK community beyond what is already known.
“Our goal is over the next 24 to 48 hours to make sure that we are communicating much more vigorously with students beyond just the email that went out today,” Blanton said Wednesday. “I’m hoping in the next couple of days we’ll have most of those questions answered.”
The university's Emergency Operations Center is open in the Main Building and continues to be utilized by the university's emergency communication team, according to Blanton.
UK officials have stressed their response to COVID-19 will remain "fluid."
“We wanted to take it step by step we’re going to do what’s right for the health safety and wellness of our campus and we will assess where we are in a couple of weeks,” said Blanton. “If we need to take additional steps we’ll do it.”