USC to temporarily move classes online as a test of precautionary measures for coronavirus

USC will hold all classes through video call for a three-day trial period starting Wednesday to test backup measures in light of the continued spread of coronavirus, Provost Charles Zukoski announced Friday in a letter to the USC community. USC said the arrangement will ensure faculty and students are prepared in case the spread of coronavirus prevents the University from holding in-person classes. 

This move comes after Los Angeles County declared a public health crisis Wednesday and after USC canceled all international University-sponsored spring break programs and Maymesters earlier this week. On Friday, the University of Washington and Stanford University shifted all classes online for the remainder of the quarter following the continued spread of coronavirus in their regions. 

“As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation evolves, your safety and wellbeing are our main priority,” the letter read. “As a result, we continue to take precautionary measures to ensure that we are prepared for any potential disruptions to teaching and learning at USC.”

Classes and office hours will be held on video call service Zoom to ascertain that USC is fully equipped to shift learning platforms. Faculty will also use Blackboard to communicate with students regarding assignments, according to the letter. The arrangement will affect all of USC’s 7,000 in-person classes at the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.

The trial period will precede spring break, during which USC administrators will gather feedback on the platform’s feasibility and apply changes as needed should the situation require a long-term solution, Zukoski said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. The Emergency Operations Center, which monitors coronavirus epidemic developments and makes recommendations on University operations with input from local health officials, has been working for nearly two weeks to prepare faculty from each school to implement courses virtually.

The University has continued to emphasize that there is no immediate threat to the USC community, calling the test run a precautionary measure to execute a smooth transition of learning in the event that the campus is shut down.

“The key [thing] to emphasize is that this really is only a test,” Zukoski said in the interview. “We simply need to be vigilant and aware of what’s going on around us.”

During the three days of online instruction, the University will continue to function on its typical schedule. Residential facilities, dining halls, libraries and health centers will remain open and campus activities will continue as planned, according to the letter. Staff and faculty are expected to work their normal hours on campus.

Zukoski said that while the trial period could lead to confusion among students and professors, it is a necessary step as the University prepares for the possibility of a shutdown. 

The Emergency Operations Center group currently meets multiple times per day to evaluate the need for further precautionary measures and changes to University protocol.

USC has continued to reevaluate its cautionary measures as the coronavirus epidemic develops based on input from the committee. Over the last two weeks, USC has brought students back from many of its study abroad programs in Europe and Asia in addition to canceling all upcoming international spring break programs and Maymester classes. 

“We have a policy of following public health and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] rulings, and it’s business as normal until that time, but we continuously assess the situation,” Zukoski said. “These emergency operations committees meet two or three times a day and look at all of the information that is coming in.”

As of Friday, L.A. County has 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has freed state and federal funds to address the spread by declaring a public health crisis. Gov. Gavin Newsom also declared a state of emergency Wednesday following California’s first death from coronavirus in Placer County.  

Three UCLA students were tested for coronavirus Friday morning and held in self-isolation. UCLA has not announced plans to cancel classes but will continue to monitor the situation, according to a news release from the university.  

Twesha Dikshit, Lauren Mattice, Shaylee Navarro, Kate Sequeira and Sarah Yaacoub contributed to this report.