University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas held an online town hall Thursday afternoon to answer questions from the community surrounding COVID-19 and the university’s response to it.
“We know there is a lot of uncertainty and worry, and a desire to know what’s going on,” Katsouleas said. “We have a philosophy to be open and transparent with any information we have.”
The town hall was held from 12 to 1 p.m., and a recording was uploaded after 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
The university announced late Wednesday night that in-person classes at the Storrs campus, regional campuses and School of Law will move to online from March 23 to April 6 at minimum.
“The campus is still open. Classes and research will still go on,” Katsouleas said. “The strategy is just to reduce the amount of people to reduce the likelihood of transmission.”
Katsouleas said extending the semester is not an option, but graduation will depend on when students return to campus.
As students are highly encouraged to stay home after spring break, many are left wondering if they will be reimbursed for housing, meal plans and other fees for the weeks they will not be on campus.
“We are sympathetic to that request. We are looking for possible sources for refunding students, including help from the state, and if that falls short, we will be bringing it to the board of trustees to see what other resources we might have,” Katsouleas said. “But the likelihood is, if not all, at least partial reimbursement would be our goal.”
International students and other students in situations where they can not travel home will have residence hall access during spring break, as well as for the two weeks after. Dining services will also be operating one dining hall on campus during that time.
“If you need to stay longer [than spring break], we want you to respond to Residential Life and let us know what your needs are, and we will accommodate,” Eleanor Daugherty, Dean of Students, said. “We will scale down to one dining hall being opened on campus, as well as grab and go and potentially in the Student Union. We will continue to hold the highest standards [for food preparation].”
Katsouleas urged students to ensure they are able to do schoolwork at home but should pack as if they will return.
“Students should take what they need for the next several weeks with the expectation they will have the opportunity to come back to their dorm,” Katsouleas said.
For students in labs and other activities that are unable to move to an online platform, John Elliot, UConn Provost, said in the town hall that those cases will be handled within their departments and areas, and will largely depend on what has already occured this semester.
The university is looking into putting together a program to loan equipment to students for their online classes, and students are reminded by university officials that public libraries have equipment and connectivity.
UConn Bound Day, a day when admitted undergraduate students can come and see campus and meet with current students, is currently scheduled for April 4. According to Daugherty, it is in the process of possibly being moved to online.
Other events scheduled after April 6 are still expected to take place unless otherwise noted by the university.
“[These restrictions are] until April 6, and the idea is there will be an update before then,” Katsouleas said. “It is hard to predict the rate in which things are changing.”
Daugherty said that all essential employees are to report to work as usual, and that includes those working in Student Health and Wellness — Mental Health.
“The counseling team is part of our medical team which is essential,” Daugherty said. “Their services are not restricted at this time.”
Parking services will continue to operate normally, including ticketing.
“Ticketing will continue as normal,” Katsouleas said. “If you do get a ticket, take consolation that every dollar from tickets goes to scholarships.”
Facility operation employees will continue to clean as normal according to university officials. They are currently in their flu protocol for cleaning, and that will continue during this time.
Andrew Agwunobi, CEO of UConn Health, said UConn Health is still operating as normal, and no patients have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“For now, we are continuing all services for all patients. We are there for the community,” Agwunobi said. “We have had five suspected cases that have tested negative, and we continue to test, but we have had no positive cases, and that is also true for the Storrs campus.”
Daugherty and Katsouleas ensured that the Dairy Bar will still be open as well during this time, as long as they still have healthy employees and conditions.
“We did say essential services, and this is pretty essential,” Katsouleas said.