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Texas universities extending spring break, moving to online classes temporarily

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Five Texas universities announced Wednesday they would extend their spring breaks through next week to prepare for the new coronavirus and then make students take classes online for at least an extra week.

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone announced that when the semester resumes, classes will be provided exclusively online for at least two weeks — from March 23 to April 3.

Residence halls and designated dining facilities will be open during the next three weeks, however, the university is asking that students "determine whether their campus or permanent residence is safest."

There are no reported coronavirus cases at Baylor or in the surrounding county.

"We place a high priority on the safety and wellbeing of not only our students, but Baylor's entire campus community," Livingstone wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

Texas A&M University at San Antonio officials said after the break, classes will be delivered online for at least one week, after which university officials will determine if remote instruction should continue.

However, the campus "will remain open as normal with all services operating" and students who live on campus will still be able to return on Monday as planned, according to a press release.

The university will also be canceling large gatherings and events and limiting university-sponsored travel.

“Our primary goals remain protecting the health and safety of our university community, and accurately informing our students and employees as best as we can in this dynamic, evolving situation,” said univesity President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. “Preparations include equipping managers and staff with comprehensive information and protocols.”

The University of Texas at San Antonio is using the extra time to "prepare its campuses against the threat of coronavirus while ensuring the academic progress of its students,” according to a press release. During and after the extended break, campus will remain open.

When students return, courses will be taught online until at least April 13.

“During that time, students are encouraged to stay at home if possible,” the release reads. “The university recognizes, however, that campus housing is the home to many students and they are welcome to return.”

The university will also be using “social distancing practices” for gatherings of over 50 people, and individuals are encouraged to keep a distance of at least three feet and practice good hygiene.

Event organizers will be advised to cancel, postpone or conduct events virtually.

“Our foremost priorities are to sustain the health of our campus community and ensure the academic progress of our students,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy. “While there is still a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus, it is expected to spread broadly in the days ahead and we are making these changes now, before we see any impact on our campuses.”

Texas Christian University is using the time to prepare for a transition to online learning through April 3 and asking students who have been away from campus not to return until given further instructions.

Large meetings are canceled through April 3, university-sponsored international travel and non-essential domestic travel are suspended "through the end of the month or until further notice."

“TCU’s highest priority is the health and well-being of our community and these measures are being put in place to secure that as best we can,” Chancellor Victor Boschini, Jr. said. “We have a responsibility to each other, our campus and the greater community to help ensure good health, decrease the potential impacts of COVID-19, and to prevent its exposure to vulnerable populations.”

Trinity University is transitioning to remote learning for the remainder of spring semester and permanently closing residence halls beginning Monday.

"Students may return to campus during the suspended semester only to collect any personal belongings and check out of their on-campus housing in the coming weeks," the release said. However, students who are unable to return to a permanent residence can apply for an exemption though "many on-campus services may be significantly limited."

The schools are among the latest in Texas to cancel classes after spring break while universities across the country have already stopped holding in-person classes, abruptly sent students home, or are extending the length of the upcoming break.

Texas A&M University — whose students are on spring break this week — announced Tuesday it would delay resuming classes for two days after students return next Monday.

The decision will "allow for planning and logistics to ensure the provision of all university services," the school said, in a message from the provost posted online. "There are no plans at this time to cancel future classes."

Rice University, which has had one confirmed case of the virus in an employee, canceled classes this week but plans to resume instruction after spring break "barring any further complications."

Campus life presents unique challenges in controlling contagious disease. There are close living quarters, regular group gatherings, and spring breaks where students and faculty can travel.

Many higher education institutions, like Rice and UT-Austin, are preparing to deliver courses remotely.

"U.S. public health officials are now describing an evolving focus from containment to mitigation of COVID-19. This has implications for how we proceed," Rice said in an alert last night. "One of the main tools in a mitigation strategy is social distancing. We are pursuing numerous social distancing strategies, such as restricting large gatherings, planning for remote course delivery and offering accommodations for at-risk individuals."

Disclosure: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor University and Rice University have been a financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.