Virus disrupts schools, student plans for semester

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The food court in Armstrong Center, usually crowded at noontime, was deserted Wednesday. Photo by Wenyan Dai 

By Emma Hendy, Wenyan Dai, Paige Scott, and Halie Barger

The first four cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Butler County on Friday, according to UC Health. The patients initially were seen at UC Health’s West Chester Hospital and have been treated and released to recuperate at home, the hospital said.

The identities of the patients are not being released to protect their privacy.

“Our physicians, nurses, caregivers, and staff are continuing to take appropriate precautions to protect all patients and staff in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” the hospital group said in a statement.

The impact of the coronavirus on life in Oxford continues to evolve on almost an hourly basis. 

At 1:27 p.m. Friday, Miami University President Gregory Crawford sent out an email  to all staff and faculty that face-to-face classes were being cancelled for the rest of the semester. All classes now will be done through remote, online instruction.

“Based on the daily reports from the Governor and Ohio’s Director of Health, who stated yesterday that the coronavirus peak is estimated for late April or early May, we do not believe a return to our campuses for face-to-face instruction by April 13 is possible,” Crawford said in the note

“This is a quickly evolving situation, and we will continue to provide important information and significant decisions as they are made. Please visit miamioh.edu/coronavirus to stay informed,” Crawford said.

No decision has been made yet about holding commencement, scheduled for May 15, and more information will be coming on what housing arrangements will be available to students who need to remain on campus, the message said. Students in university housing who do not return to campus after spring break, will be eligible for room and board refunds, the note said.

On Thursday evening, Talawanda School District announced schools would be closed on Friday because of an order by the Butler County Health Department. The district had announced earlier in the day that schools would be open as normal on Friday and Talawanda would begin a state-mandated shutdown next week.

The abrupt change in plans was announced on the district’s website in a message to parents by Superintendent Ed Theroux: 

“Dear Talawanda Students, Families, and Community,

Talawanda School District just received word from the Butler County Health Department that ALL Talawanda Schools are closed effectively immediately! Students will NOT report to school on Friday, March 13, 2020.”  

Details of what prompted the order from the health department were not available. As of Friday morning, the health department website continues to say no cases of the virus have been confirmed in Butler County. Theroux’s letter went on to promise that students and their families would be hearing from the schools about how remote online learning will be conducted. School faculty in Talawanda are meeting today and Monday to work out details of online teaching operations, which are scheduled to begin next Wednesday and run through at least April 3.

All sports, clubs and other extra-curricular school activities have been canceled, the district said. The district is working with families who do not have online access to ensure that learning can continue for their children, Theroux said in the note.

While no virus cases have been confirmed locally, a family member of a Talawanda student was being tested for the virus on Thursday, according to Holli Morrish, communications director of the district.  The results of that test are not known at this time.

“We gave that information to the Butler County Health Department, and they say we’re good,” Morrish said. 

Oxford Mayor Mike Smith and Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene hosted an online video conference on Friday morning telling people to follow Ohio Governor DeWine’s directives to limit large gatherings..

“We urge everyone to remain calm and respect and follow the guidance of our health professionals,” Smith said.  

There will be a mobile health unit installed in the parking lot of McCullough-Hyde Hospital, and the city is working together with community partners such as Talawanda Schools, Butler County Emergency Management Agency, Miami University, Tri-Health and more.

According to Greene, the city is taking steps to limit the spread of the illness, and follow the governor’s restrictions which includes the cancellation of the following local events through April 6:

· The Citizens Police Academy

· The Police Explorers Program

· Parks and Recreation Pre-school Program

· Spring Break Camp

· Easter Egg Hunt

· Any events with over 100 people in public areas such as the community and uptown parks

“We’re going to continuously monitor the situation, and as things change we’ll keep you informed,” Greene said. The city will also be communicating with local businesses to help them understand the governor’s orders on mass gathering restrictions.

Miami University will be assisting the Oxford Police with daily patrolling, according to Greene.

Smith urged citizens that may be facing economic hardship due to lack of or limited employment to contact the Oxford Family Resource Center at (513) 523-5859.

“We strongly encourage you to continue good health habits,” Smith said. “Please think of your neighbors as you purchase supplies and take just what you need.

President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the oval office on Wednesday night, stating that on Friday, March 13 at midnight all travel from Europe to the United States will be suspended for the next 30 days, excluding the U.K. and Americans coming from Europe. 

As of Thursday, March 12, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) reported there were 1,215  people in the U.S. who had tested positive for coronavirus. According to the CDC, there were 36 deaths people in the U.S. attributed to the virus. 

The governor’s orders dealing with the virus

On Thursday, DeWine announced that all K-12 schools in the state will close for three weeks beginning no later than Monday, March 16. That followed an announcement on Tuesday afternoon that all state universities in Ohio, including Miami, would immediately stop face-to-face classes and revert to online-only instruction. Miami announced that the online-only instruction will continue until at least April 12, two weeks beyond the end of spring break.

DeWine also ordered a ban on mass gatherings of more than 100 people. “We cannot be in close proximity to each other,” he said. 

A mass gathering is defined as any event that brings together more than 100 people in venues such as auditoriums, stadiums, large conference rooms, festivals, parades, fairs and theaters that are indoors or outside.

However, this order excludes airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities and malls which allow for modes of transportation. The order also does not include grocery stores, businesses or schools. The media is also excluded from the order. Religious gatherings, including funerals and weddings, are also excluded.

DeWine said he does not anticipate that police will be needed to enforce the order but can be called in if necessary.

“The government can only do so much and only should do so much but it really is incumbent on all of us to protect all of us,” said DeWine.

Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, described the coronavirus outbreak as a once in a 50-year pandemic that medical professionals try to be prepared for. There had been five confirmed cases of the virus in Ohio as of Thursday, all in the Cuyahoga County area. Families and others who have been identified as having been in close contact with those individuals have been quarantined, she said.

Acton said Ohio now has the ability to test 1,200 to 1,500 people per day for the virus, but more testing capacity is needed. She said she expects the number of people in Ohio found to be infected can be expected to double every six days. The closing of schools and cancellation of other events are being done to slow that rate of spread, she said.

Nursing homes are specifically vulnerable to the virus, and older people with underlying health issues are considered at higher risk than young and healthy people. The state is ordering that visitation to such facilities be limited to one visitor, per patient, per day.

Visitors to prisons and psychiatric facilities are also banned under the governor’s order along with guards at the psychiatric hospitals. “This will not last forever and everything is temporary,” said DeWine at his Thursday press conference.

Election day on Tuesday, March 17 will still be held and does not count as a mass gathering, according to the governor. Yet, there are 30,000 poll workers in the state and some of them have health concerns that will keep them from working. Calls have gone out to recruit more poll workers and as of Thursday, 500 people had signed up, according to the state.

The governor also said Thursday that he is prepared to take that action if needed to prevent price-gouging on such things as sanitary and cleaning products. The Ohio attorney general has been asked to monitor sales of such items, DeWine said. 

Changes implemented at Miami   

On Tuesday, March 10, Miami announced all face-to -ace instruction in lectures, discussion sections, seminars and other similar classroom settings would move online starting March 11. The remote instruction is set to last at least until April 12, two weeks after the end of spring break. Residence halls, dining halls and all campus services have remained open.

The suspension of face-to-face classes is due to DeWine announcing that colleges should follow Ohio State University’s example of suspending face-to-face classes as a preventative measure. The fourth case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Stark County on March 11. Unfortunately, that case of the virus met the definition of community spread because the patient had not traveled and had not come into contact with other people known to have been infected.  

Other Ohio universities that have cut face-to-face classes as of Thursday Kent State University, Case Western, John Carroll, Ohio University, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland State and others.

Professors have attended workshops and training for online courses. “We can transfer those same format and technology-driven lessons to our remote teaching for the in-person classes,” said Gretchen Matuszak, director of the dietetics program at Miami.

Students have been given the choice of returning home to their permanent residences or staying on campus to take the online classes. However, it was recommended by the university to practice social distance – staying out of large groups and remaining six feet from others – and taking preventive health and hygiene measures such as frequent and thorough hand-washing.

Professors were given a deadline of March 20 to have all classes capable of going online. However, after DeWine announced colleges should cancel face-to-face classes, the time for preparation was cut short.

“The requirements to provide remote learning are very reasonable and many of the items that were requested on our Canvas (Miami’s academic computer operating system) sites and to deliver the educational material were already in place,” said Matuszak.

All non-essential events have also been postponed or canceled. It was encouraged to avoid travel to Japan or other countries that may leave a student at risk for COVID-19. Students who do travel to a CDC level 2 (Japan)  or 3 country are required to report their travel to the university through an email address and will be screened at the Health Services Center on campus.

All Miami students studying abroad in university-connected programs have been ordered to return home. 

Leeann Tran, whose study abroad program in South Korea was canceled, talked to the Oxford Observer from Seoul last week. She is now back in her hometown of Cleveland. “I’m self-quarantining myself for two weeks at home in Cleveland,” Tran said. “There are three confirmed cases in my county.” 

Her student financial aid has also been canceled. Her funds will all be returned to Miami. Since she is not a full-time student for the spring and will not be utilizing her scholarships, she may potentially have them available to use in the summer.

Opportunities for staff to work remotely also are being reviewed, according to the university’s announcement, particularly in light of the shutdown of Talawanda schools, where the children of many Miami employees are enrolled. 

Professors see where this precaution is necessary. “An academic setting where students are living in dorms is not a place where you can deliver long-term medical care if needed. It is better to be cautious,” said Matuszak.

Since the suspension of face-to-face classes, many of the university’s public facilities, even though open, are almost empty.  An employee serving Food Service at Armstrong Student Center, Brenda Churchman, like other employees, continues to stick to their post.

“We usually have a lot of customers, but until noon today, only four customers came to the dining area I worked,” said Brenda Churchman, a food services employee in Armstrong Student Center. Students who work part-time at Armstrong can choose not to come because they have suspended classes. But as of Thursday, regular, non-student employees were expected to report for work, Churchman said. 

Students who originally planned trips over spring break have canceled their plans.

Fangqing Liang, a sophomore economics major, originally booked a hotel and flight to Orlando. Due to the impact of the coronavirus, he lost half of the cost when he canceled.

“I don’t think the situation will get better by the end of March. It will take some time to improve. For the sake of health, we should try to avoid contact with a large number of people. The airport is dangerous,” said Liang.

Accommodations at Talawanda


Talawanda City Schools are making accommodations for students to start remote online learning next week, according to Holli Morrish, director of communications for the district. Talawanda has a small number of students who may not have access to the resources necessary to complete the online classes. Morrish said the school will be working with those families individually to work out solutions.

“Each grade level team has been working together to design that (the online programs),” Morrish said.

Talawanda will be off from school Monday and Tuesday. Teachers will have a professional development day on Monday, where Morrish said they will prepare for their online curriculum. Online classes will begin on Wednesday. The following week of March 23, Talawanda will be on spring break. Once they return from spring break, they will resume online distance learning.

“Unless we get new direction from the governor, we will be returning to school April 6,” Morrish said.

The fifth case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ohio on Thursday afternoon, with 52 persons under investigation, according to the governor’s office. Thirty tests in Ohio have been confirmed negative, which means those people did not have the virus.

“We have to do everything we can to avoid an interruption,” said DeWine at the press conference on Thursday. 

In sports, the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer have canceled games until further notice because of the virus. The NCAA basketball tournament scheduled for this month also has been canceled and Major League Baseball announced it was canceling spring training and pushing the opening day of its season, originally set for March 26, back at least two weeks.

Of interest locally, the Mid-American Conference, which includes Miami, announced it would play its basketball tournament this week without fans. State tournaments for Ohio high school sports also will be played without fans.

The virus also is having an impact on the Ohio Primary, scheduled for Tuesday, March 17. 

The Butler County Board of Elections has relocated several polling in Fairfield and Monroe that had been located in senior citizen facilities, to protect the residents of those facilities. The board also extended early voting hours. From now until March 15, the hours will be from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, March 13; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 14; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, March 16.