Disclaimer: Esra Gurcay is a former executive social media editor at the Daily. Gurcay was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.
Tufts administrators responded to growing concerns over the global coronavirus outbreak by implementing travel regulations and warning of potential disruptions to spring semester courses in a series of emails to faculty, staff and students last week.
In an email to the Tufts community on March 5, administrators announced a host of travel restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, known formally as COVID-19, to the university’s campuses.
The most stringent restriction prohibits anyone traveling from a country designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with a Level 3 travel warning — its highest risk level — from being on campus, even if they are symptom-free, for 14 days. Tufts also requires that such travelers self-quarantine in accordance with CDC guidance.
Four countries currently have Level 3 designations: China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. It is unclear how the university plans to enforce its restrictions on travelers from these countries.
Tufts also temporarily prohibited all university-related travel to Level 3 countries and suspended several university-supported international trips scheduled for next week’s spring break.
The Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) informed members of IGL-funded fact-finding missions to Colombia and Cyprus on March 5 that their trips would be suspended. Students traveling to Colombia had already scheduled interviews with sources in the country when they learned of the travel suspension, according to Sara Torres Raisbeck, president and co-founder of the Tufts Latin American Committee (LAC), which organized the trip.
“It was a matter of [telling sources], ‘Oh wait, I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore,'” Torres Raisbeck, a junior, said. “I’m grateful that the IGL contacted us [about the travel restrictions] beforehand. I think it was the right move, especially because it’s something that we’ve all put so much effort into.”
Torres Raisbeck still hopes to conduct her research, which focuses on eco-tourism camps run by former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) militants as part of a social reintegration effort, in Colombia over spring break, since she is doing it for credit and will graduate in May. Other members of the LAC trip may be forced to wait until summer to visit Colombia or opt out of the trip entirely.
The Middle East Research Group may also consider rescheduling its trip to Cyprus in August, according to the group’s co-president, Esra Gurcay.
“I understand the position that the university is taking and understand that they feel responsible for protecting us, but obviously it’s a big disappointment,” Gurcay, a senior, said. “I wish that we could have found a way to negotiate this.”
Tufts will require faculty and staff to register any university-related international travel with the Tufts Travel Registry, which students already must do. The university also discouraged community members from taking any non-essential international trips — highlighting concerns that students traveling for spring break will expose Tufts’ campuses to the virus.
Tufts students studying on the university’s program in Madrid received an email Monday night announcing the temporary suspension of classes, with program-specific classes being conducted online next week. Many students on non-Tufts study abroad programs have already been sent home by their host universities.
There are no Tufts students studying in China this semester, according to Senior Director of Study Abroad and Global Education Mala Ghosh. The university plans to monitor the situation in Pavia, Italy, where it conducts summer courses.
In an email to the Tufts community on March 6, Executive Vice President Mike Howard announced that faculty were warned to prepare for student absences due to the impact of coronavirus on their travel and health.
Howard also announced that faculty members at Tufts’ graduate and undergraduate schools were instructed to plan for the possibility that in-person classes are suspended this semester and to prepare contingency plans for such a scenario. He noted, however, that these warnings are entirely precautionary.
“We continue to hope that face-to-face classes during the spring semester are not disrupted. Any updates to academic policies, procedures, or schedules will be communicated to the Tufts community promptly,” Howard wrote in the March 6 email.
The suspension of in-person classes would present a unique challenge for laboratory sciences, which rely on interactive lessons to present material. Professors of classes with lab components would need to be creative in order to complete their spring curricula, according to physics Professor David Hammer.
Hammer, who teaches an 88-person introductory physics class, is optimistic that he could design assignments for outside of the classroom but acknowledged it would be more difficult to adapt a biology or chemistry experiment.
“Because it’s introductory physics, the physical world is readily available,” Hammer said. “If it were a chemistry lab, I bet there are still things that one could do, depending what the topic is that you want to address, but it’s way more challenging.”
The list of schools suspending in-person classes includes Northeastern University’s Seattle campus, which will move to a remote option. Students on Northeastern’s Boston campus will continue to attend class as normal.
Many Boston-area universities, however, have been forced to react to the coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts, where 41 people have been positively diagnosed as of March 9.
Amherst announced on Monday the cancellation of classes beginning later this week and that all classes will be conducted remotely beginning after its spring break, beginning on March 23. Amherst students were asked to leave campus by March 16.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) also announced on Monday that all classes with more than 150 people will be conducted remotely. MIT previously banned all university-related events with more than 150 people and suspended school-sponsored international travel for faculty, students and staff.
Harvard University similarly prohibited school-sponsored international and non-essential domestic travel and discouraged events with more than 100 attendees.
Tufts attempted to ease anxiety over COVID-19 on March 2, when University President Anthony Monaco and other university officials dined with community leaders in Chinatown, where Tufts’ Health Sciences campus is located. Their lunch was an effort to show support for local residents and restaurants, which have taken a hit amid coronavirus concerns.
Monaco announced in an email to the Tufts community two days later that Howard will lead the university’s coronavirus response.
Howard confirmed the creation of four working groups in his March 6 email. One working group will focus on establishing operational, academic and clinical continuity, while the others will address student life, health and communications, respectively.
Howard also announced that administrators will share a summary of coronavirus-related decisions and updates at least once a week with the Tufts community while continuing to send urgent communications as necessary.