Students, businesses wary of U of M coronavirus-inspired class suspensions

People walk in front of Coffman Memorial Union.
People walk across the University of Minnesota green on in November 2016 in Minneapolis. The school has canceled its face-to-face classes until at least the end of the month because of concerns about spread of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
Sam Harper for MPR News 2016

Updated 3:25 p.m.

University of Minnesota leaders have canceled face-to-face classes until at least the end of the month because of concerns about spread of the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Students will take classes online for the time being.

The U of M says there are no reported cases on any of the five campuses, but it’s making the move in an effort to reduce risk.

On Thursday, Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul made a similar move, announcing that it would suspend in-person classes through April 3 while noting there are no known cases of the disease on campus. The University of St. Thomas also weighed in, saying it will suspend in-person classes and go online starting Monday through April 14, students’ first day back from holiday.

By late Thursday afternoon, officials with the Minnesota State system of two-year colleges and regional universities said their schools would suspend classes beyond spring holiday, effectively creating a two-week break while campuses remained open.

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Minnesota State schools that are currently on spring break are suspending classes March 16 to March 22 and will resume March 23. The five colleges with spring break scheduled during the week of March 16 to 20 are suspending classes March 23 to 29 with classes resuming March 30.

The U’s Twin Cities campus is on spring break this week, so things are quieter than normal. But with 49,000 students, it’s not hard to find a few still hanging around.

Senior Isabella Garcia studies art with an emphasis on photography. At this final stage of her academic career, the 22-year-old is not going to big lecture halls with hundreds of other students. But she said the suspension of face-to-face classes will hurt.

A U of M student stands in front of a school building.
Isabella Garcia, 22, is an art major student at the University of Minnesota.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

“My major involves a lot of community engagement in my classes” she said.

“We have a lot of hands-on classes where we have to use the space around us. So, I’m not too excited about it.”

Garcia said they may meet via video chat, which neither she nor her instructors have used before.

“We actually have a project due the first day back from spring break, which is an in-person critique. And now we won’t be able to do that. I’m not sure how it’s going to go,” Garcia said.

To be clear, the University of Minnesota is not shutting down, though spring break on the Duluth, Rochester, Minn., and Twin Cities campuses will be extended two days. Classes will resume online next Wednesday.

In a statement, University President Joan Gabel said residence and dining halls are staying open and other student services will continue. Employees should still report to work, but Gabel said some may be asked to telecommute.

U president on the decision to move classes online
by Cathy Wurzer

Tammy Cao, a junior information technology major, is also staying on campus through spring break. She said the U’s move to online classes isn’t too surprising given the global spread of COVID-19. Cao uses the many hand sanitizer stations around campus, but she’s not concerned about catching the bug herself.

“I’m not super worried about it. I know a lot of people are more worried about it than I am. But not in particular, since I haven’t been traveling or anything,” Cao said.

While students will still be on campus, but not in class, at least one Dinkytown restaurant owner is concerned that they may just stay in their dorms and apartments.

Yeng Thao at Umami Fries on 14th Avenue said business was already sluggish, even before break.

“If they cancel like this for one or two weeks, I think the business cannot run anymore — because it’s really slow now,” Thao said. She fears she may have to send employees home if customers don’t show up.

The move to online classes affects the University of Minnesota’s four other campuses, too. Rochester and Duluth are also on spring break this week. In Morris and Crookston in western Minnesota, online classes will start March 23, when those campuses are back from break.

Gabel said university leaders will reevaluate the restrictions on face-to-face classes at the end of the month.