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SOU to remain open as it responds to coronavirus

Southern Oregon University will keep its doors open, but will implement an unprecedented series of cancellations to its sports, arts and international programs as the university braces itself for the coronavirus pandemic.

The university will hold final exams as scheduled, but will encourage faculty to use “remote options” wherever possible and “ensure that social distancing measures are kept” for students taking exams in the classroom by keeping strict distances of at least 3 feet apart, SOU president Linda Schott said Thursday at a press conference listing the latest policy changes made in collaboration with the advice of Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon University System.

During spring term, Schott said, the university will have faculty deliver courses online or via videoconferencing systems wherever feasible, and managers throughout the university are asking staff to work from home.

“We believe this will limit chances for the virus to spread within our campus community,” Schott said.

SOU facilities including Hannon Library and the computer lab will remain open for students who may lack access to a computer.

“We will continue to do regular cleanings,” Schott said.

Students without a computer can also check out Chromebook laptops from the SOU library.

All SOU international programs and trips are suspended until further notice, according to Schott, adding that eight students currently abroad are on their way back. None are believed to be in Level 3 countries, but Schott acknowledged that the global situation is “changing rapidly.”

Returning students will be asked to self-quarantine until the university is certain they are healthy.

“We don’t take all these actions with great joy in our heart,” Schott said, adding that the measures will help health care professionals “keep pace” with the demands caused by the pandemic.

Spring break will be extended for students by an extra week, with spring term classes beginning April 6. Schott said the spring term will finish in time for commencement, scheduled for June 13.

“Our goal by extending this time period for students is to allow additional time for the curve of the virus’ spread to flatten, and also to give our faculty members an opportunity to plan and develop their options for spring term course delivery,” Schott said.

As of Thursday, 21 people in Oregon have tested positive for the coronavirus, and Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday it is preparing for thousands.

The university’s residence halls and dormitories will remain open through spring break for any students who choose to remain on campus, and will remain open next term.

SOU will cancel all groups and gatherings that don’t allow the three-foot social distance recommended by public health officials, including most audiences at athletic competitions.

Only student participants, essential personnel and credentialed media will be allowed to attend SOU sports events until further notice, and all performance and museum events through the Center of the Arts at Southern Oregon University have been canceled indefinitely.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, of which SOU is a member, already canceled national championships for its winter sports. SOU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and women’s wrestling teams are returning from North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, according to Athletic Director Matt Sayre.

“They are flying back today, tomorrow and Saturday,” Sayre said. “They will not complete the national championships for the winter.”

SOU will put a hiatus on any spring sports competitions for at least the next two weeks, which will cancel events scheduled for the university’s track and field and softball teams.

The track events canceled include a meet scheduled for later this week at Chico State in California, and another meet set for next week at Sacramento State. SOU’s softball team had a road trip scheduled later this weekend to Eugene to play the Olympic national team.

“That’s unfortunate for our student athletes. They’re all going to be bummed out about it, but it’s something we feel we must do,” Sayre said.

Practices will be monitored by the university’s athletic trainers, and officials will work to identify symptoms in student athletes and educate them to prevent them from spreading.

Student dormitories and the Hawk Dining Commons will remain open, but will implement a “broad set” of procedures to keep students safe, according to SOU Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Perkinson, who is also serving as commander of the university’s COVID-19 incident response team.

“We’re developing a protocol where if somebody feels sick and they call the student health and wellness center, we’ll work with them to allow them to self-isolate but still provide meals,” Perkinson said. “We have carry-out meals that we’ll bring from the dining hall over to the student.”

Perkinson said it’s too soon to know the financial impacts of the changes, but the transition from face-to-face classes to online classes could lead to a drop in revenue from student fees and increased technology costs.

“Unfortunately we’re not in this alone,” Schott added. “It’s impacting every higher education institution, and my belief is that it is a time when the state steps in.”

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneSouthern Oregon University President Linda Schott speaks Thursday at a press conference about COVID-19.