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Coronavirus Prompts Shift To Online-Only Classes At Montana Universities, Including Havre’s MSU-Northern

March 19 Update: In a turnabout, the MSU-Northern chancellor announced that all classes, including those with hands-on labs, will transition to an online format, as part of an effort to keep Hill County free of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

March 13 Update: MSU-Northern classes with hands-on lab instruction will not transition to online-only classes. University staff will take precautions to limit the size of groups in those classes and ensure students learn in a clean and safe environment, Director of University Relations Jim Potter said late this morning.

Montana’s public universities, including Havre’s Montana State University-Northern, are shifting to online-only instruction in response to the national spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The move will temporarily halt in-person classes by March 23, after which all instruction will be conducted online, according to Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian in an email posted to Montana State University’s coronavirus information page.

Northern’s Chancellor Greg Kegel has called a meeting Thursday afternoon to work out the details, the university’s director of public relations, Jim Potter, said in an email.

“For now, we have not canceled any classes or events and it is business as usual. Please note we are reviewing things on an hour-by-hour basis,” Potter said.

Christian’s email details the following actions:

  • Montana University System campuses will, in every instance possible, transition all in-class instruction to online or other remote teaching options that do not require in-class presence. 
  • MUS campuses will remain open and operational for students, including residence halls, dining services, computer labs, and most other campus services.
  • MUS campuses will implement appropriate social distancing measures in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. This will include restrictions on large gatherings such as lectures, theater performances, and academic conferences.

“I do not take these decisions lightly,” Christian said in the email. “I believe that the course of action outlined…is the best way to balance our commitment to protect the public health and safety of our students, employees, and communities.

“If and when we consider a return to face-to-face instruction we will provide as much advance notice as possible and clear instructions for an orderly return to normal operations,” Christian said.

The move comes the same day the NAIA announced it was canceling its winter sports championships, including the women’s basketball national championship that was scheduled to be played in Billings next week.

It also comes one day after news that a Montana woman traveling to Maryland tested positive for coronavirus. The health department investigated and discovered the woman, a Lake County resident, has not been in Montana since November. A press release from Gov. Steve Bullock’s office says health officials have confirmed she didn’t have coronavirus while in Montana.

Also on Wednesday, neighboring Wyoming reported its first known case of coronavirus.

This coronavirus, which originated in China in December, infects the lower respiratory tract. People infected with it first develop a fever, cough, and aches, after which symptoms can progress to shortness of breath and complications from pneumonia. Those infected might develop nausea, with vomiting and diarrhea.

Roughly 80% of the cases have been mild, with fever and a dry cough being the most common symptoms. Many patients have recovered within a few weeks. Others are mildly ill for a few days, then rapidly develop more severe symptoms of pneumonia.

Health officials have said those most susceptible to dying from the virus are older people who have underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart or lung diseases. 

The mortality rate for the new coronavirus is often cited as about 2%. Comparatively, the mortality rate for severe seasonal influenza is much lower, at 0.1%.

The latest numbers from the CDC report 1,215 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and 36 known related deaths.

New reports concerning infection come in multiple times daily.

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Write to Paul Dragu at editor@havreherald.com

editor@havreherald.com (406) 262-7778
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