With almost 13,000 new COVID-19 cases reported in Arkansas Thursday (Jan. 13) and 2,621 active cases in Sebastian County, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) has decided to take things virtual for one week.
UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley said the university would take all instruction and operations to remote delivery from Friday (Jan. 14) to Jan. 24.
“On our own campus, we have had more students and employees who have reported active cases this week, and even more are quarantining after being exposed to positive cases. This is up from just 13 active cases on campus one week ago today,” Riley said in an email to students and staff Friday. “At this rate of spread, exposure, isolation and quarantine, it is impossible to continue effective in-person delivery of instruction and services on-campus.”
Riley said the move to remote instruction is temporary and will allow faculty, staff and students who have tested positive to recover from infection and those exposed to be released from quarantine while continuing the educational mission of the institution online.
“By taking steps to stop this surge, we have every expectation that we will be able to return to campus next Monday to continue delivering the high-quality on-campus education and support our students expect and deserve. Of course, this strategy only works if all of us take active steps to reduce the spread by reducing contact with others who may have COVID and continuing other mitigation efforts such as properly wearing masks and frequent hand washing/use of hand sanitizer,” Riley said.
Some exceptions to the remote learning directive will be made for courses that must meet in person to achieve immediate learning needs, including those with clinical rotations, internship placements and courses requiring hands-on skills hours, Riley said in the message, noting students would be notified by Monday (Jan. 17) if their courses will be held in person.
Along with instruction, most campus services will move to remote except for housing, dining, security and maintenance services, the message said.
“We know this pivot will not be easy for all students, faculty or staff members, but we believe it is the only way to ensure a safe and effective return to campus for the rest of the Spring semester,” Riley said.
Students who do not have access to computers or internet at home, can borrow wireless hotspots and portable computers or tablets from the university, Riley said.
The remote learning also will change UAFS’ planned Martin Luther King Jr. programs. The university’s annual commemorative breakfast honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. will shift to virtual as will the two fireside chats scheduled for next week. There will be a zoom MLK Week Community panel discussion at 8 a.m. Monday. The MLK Week Fireside Chat: Putting the Literacy of Others First will be at noon Wednesday (Jan. 19) and the MLK Week Fireside Chat: Putting the Literacy of Others First will be at noon Jan. 21. Details for all are on the UAFS website.
“I want to assure you this temporary return to remote instruction is just that: Temporary. It is an opportunity for those in isolation and quarantine to heal, for our campus to regain its strength, and to reset for a safe and successful spring semester on campus. We will provide a campus update on Thursday, Jan. 20, to confirm our return to on campus work and instruction beginning Monday, Jan. 24,” Riley said.
Because there are already strict COVID-19 mandates for play in the NCAA Division II, UAFS student athletes will continue practice and play as scheduled, the message said.
Riley said Friday that so far everyone has been very supportive of this temporary move to remote instruction.
“Individuals in our system, in the community and on campus have told me they appreciate this decision, as difficult as it was to make, and are glad to know there is an end date to the transition as well,” Riley said.