By Lauren Minore
Amid an ongoing international crisis surrounding the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Rider University has joined a growing list of colleges and universities across the United States that have extended spring break an extra week in preparation of a possible transition to virtual learning procedures. The university announced on March 10 that classes would not be held March 23-27, in order to delay students’ possible return to campus.
In a campus-wide email on March 10, Rider announced the decision to extend its spring break, closing for an additional week through March 27.
The spring break extension was provided in order to give administrators and faculty members time to make academic and operational accommodations should in-person classes need to be cancelled to mitigate transmission of the virus.
“Deans, faculty and the Teaching and Learning Center, for instance, are preparing a number of technology-based and other solutions should we have to rely on remote instruction for a period of time,” the email said. “And we continue our cleaning and disinfecting protocols in all buildings across both campuses.”
According to the March 10 email, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff on either the Lawrenceville or Princeton campuses.
Kristine Brown, university spokeswoman, confirmed to The Rider News that there were no students, faculty or staff self-quarantining.
“We know this is a challenging situation for all of us, and that disruptions and inconveniences will likely result because of this outbreak. Of utmost importance is the safety and welfare of all members of our University community,” the university email said. “We also remain committed to continuing instruction to the extent possible so that you may complete your academic requirements this semester.”
The email reiterates Rider’s commitment to this “resilient community” and promises that “we will get through this.”
Brown emphasized that Rider will continue to update the community as plans evolve.
“We urge everyone to monitor their Rider email and rider.edu/coronavirus for the most up to date information,” she said.
In regards to any plans for an additional week of classes at the end of the semester to replace the extra week of spring break, Brown said administrators will continue to monitor the situation and make plans accordingly.
Arianna Gruppuso, a sophomore public relations major and native of Los Angeles, is taking steps to prepare as if she is headed home for the semester.
“For me, I’m going to pack up my bags and plan to have everything I care about and bring it to California, as of now, I’m packing up to move back home,” she said. “I’m going to plan on staying as long as I can, especially because we don’t really know what the virus entails, because if I bring it back, I can bring it to campus.”
Gruppuso acknowledged that going back to California puts her more at risk for contracting the virus, but is more concerned with her fate for the rest of the semester at Rider.
“I think that Rider needed to put out the statement sooner rather than later because the fact that I don’t even know yet if I’m coming back after these next two weeks is stressful,” she said.
Arianna Gruppuso’s father, Anthony Gruppuso, disagreed with his daughter about the timeliness of Rider’s announcement to extend its spring break.
“Quite honestly, I think they are on the earlier side,” he said. “It’s working out well for colleges because they’re all having spring break around this time of year. I don’t think they acted too late, I think they’re right on schedule.”
As for having her home in Los Angeles, Anthony Gruppuso, with a laugh, questioned what parent would not want to have their student home — until they get sick of them.
“I think my daughter prefers to be in class,” he said. “I think maybe I’d prefer her to be in school. I think it’s probably going to be online… I think they are doing the right thing because they have no other choice. Given that, I’m accepting of it.”
Rider’s announcement follows the lead of several other colleges and universities on both local and national levels.
Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber’s decision to help mitigate the growing risk of transmission by increasing practice of the concept of social distancing was announced on March 9. Princeton’s approach includes “a mandatory, temporary move for all lectures, seminars, and precepts to virtual instruction starting on Monday, March 23.”
Other colleges and universities to announce class cancellations include Hofstra University and Columbia University on March 8 and Rowan University and Monmouth University on March 9.
CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION
Director of the Center for International Education (CIE) Sara Young-Singh, in an interview with The Rider News, discussed the implications of COVID-19 on Rider’s current and upcoming study abroad programs.
“We evaluate each destination carefully with the guidance of the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Overseas Advisory Council,” Young-Singh said. “In consultation with university partners abroad and program providers, the CIE and Provost’s Office provide guidance to Rider’s upper administration who ultimately decide which programs are cancelled [or] postponed.”
Young-Singh said that there was one student studying abroad this semester at Rider’s partner university, John Cabot University in Rome, who was brought home on March 4.
“They are continuing their studies online with JCU as they moved all their classes online for the remainder of the semester,” Young-Singh said.
The CDC issued a warning and announced that Italy was a Level 3: Avoid nonessential travel status COVID-19-affected country.
Young-Singh did not disclose whether or not the student was self-quarantining, but acknowledged that the student is studying remotely from home.
Brown added, “The student was not asked to self-isolate because she was not returning to campus. Our self isolation protocol only applies for students returning to campus.”
Rider had 16 students studying abroad and one student who was still pending to go abroad in several countries including Australia, France, Hungary, Ireland and the United Kingdom, during the spring semester, according to Young-Singh.
One of Rider’s partner schools, the American Business School located in Paris, recently notified students that they will be completing the semester online, according to Young-Singh.
“As a result of this decision, the students who are studying with the American Business School have been given the option to return if they choose to, as their university will move to online courses after spring break,” she said.
Another university partner in Japan has postponed its start date to April 2020, according to Young-Singh.
“The [short-term] China program was rerouted to study abroad in the May term to Taiwan. With the shift to May, the study abroad program to Taiwan is still accepting applications,” she said.
Some study abroad programs were ultimately cancelled, however. Young-Singh said that the university decided to cancel a Spanish abroad program to Barcelona and a theater performance program to Croatia.
Young-Singh confirmed that the university decided to cancel any international travel programs during spring break and the Urbino, Italy, summer program as a result of the CDC Level 3 COVID-19 risk.
However, all students whose trips were cancelled are being fully refunded, according to Young-Singh.
Despite the growing risk of COVID-19, Young-Singh encouraged students with an interest in studying abroad to make the commitment “a priority, not a last-minute decision.”
“When students plan early, the likelihood of their studying abroad is high,” she said. “The commitment to studying abroad demonstrates one’s commitment to their academic growth as a world citizen and personal growth as an individual.”
METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
Rider’s men’s and women’s basketball teams were scheduled to compete in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament from March 10-14 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“The health and well-being of our teams and fans will always be paramount at any MAAC championship events,” a press release said.
Although the tournament began on March 10 as originally scheduled, MAAC officials released a plan on March 5 which included a suspension of all handshake protocols, implementation of enhanced cleaning and disinfection and distribution of educational information about COVID-19 from the CDC in arena fan areas and team areas, among other measures.
A new virus caused a disease called COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Since then, COVID-19 has been detected in over 100 international locations, including the United States. On Jan. 30, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”
The CDC lists fever, cough and shortness of breath as main symptoms of COVID-19 and indicate that symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
Reported illness severities have ranged from very mild, including some with no reported symptoms, to severe, including illness resulting in death, according to the CDC. Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying medical conditions had the highest risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness, according to the CDC.
The CDC has reported COVID-19 cases in 35 states and The District of Columbia, with a total of 647 presumptive positive cases and 25 deaths, as of March 10.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and Public Health Emergency on March 9 in an attempt to “to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19,” according to a state press release.
“The State of New Jersey is committed to deploying every available resource, across all levels of government, to help respond to the spread of COVID-19 and keep our residents informed,” Murphy said in the press release. “My administration will continue to work closely with our federal partners to ensure that local health agencies on the front lines of the state’s response are equipped with the resources needed to further prepare our health care system for a broader spread of COVID-19.”
New Jersey first reported a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on March 4 and reported the first death linked to COVID-19 in the state on March 10. The deceased patient was a 69-year-old man from Bergen County with underlying health conditions, according to New Jersey State Commissioner of Health, Judith Persichilli, in a press conference on March 10.
“We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey. Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can — across all levels of government — to protect the people of New Jersey,” a state press release said.
At the press conference, Persichilli confirmed four new presumptive positive cases, bringing the state’s total to 15 on March 10. Of the four new cases, two were in Burlington County and two were in Bergen County — one of which was the individual who is deceased.
There were also 31 cases under investigation, according to Persichilli.