ST PAUL -- As the current number of COVID-19 patients reaches five in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota is suspending all in-person classes at all five campuses until at least Wednesday, April 1.

In a Wednesday, March 11, statement, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced that effective immediately, in-person courses are suspended out of health and safety precautions for the global COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by exposure to coronavirus.

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 63,000 students are enrolled in UMN across all five campuses statewide.

The Duluth, Rochester and Twin Cities campuses are currently on spring break, which has now been extended to Wednesday, March 18, according to Wednesday's release. UMN Crookston and Morris campuses' spring breaks are scheduled for next week, March 16-20. Following spring break, Gabel said classes will be taught online or alternatively through at least April 1.

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Additionally, according to U of M spokesperson Caitlin Hurley, the university has suspended study abroad programs in China, South Korea and Italy for the spring semester, May and summer as of Wednesday. She said students enrolled in those programs "are receiving assistance to address academic and financial implications of the program suspension."

For students returning home from study abroad trips in those three countries, Hurley said the University advises they follow health guidelines and self-isolate for two weeks.

As of Wednesday, five Minnesotans have tested positive for the virus, none of which are within the U of M system. But Gabel said suspending classes is "a precautionary measure to mitigate the risk of exposure to our University community."

Campuses will remain open, and Gabel said employees should still report to work. But she encouraged students to go or stay home, away from campus, if they are able.

For students who can't go home, or for those whose safest place is on campus, Gabel said residence halls, dining services and other student services will continue operating. She said the university will release another update if that changes.

For those on campus, Gabel recommended following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines to prevent contracting or spreading the virus.

Even with classes being offered remotely, some students are worried about how their coursework will be translated to an online format. Elise Bonnes, a U of M Twin Cities senior from Minneapolis majoring in fine arts, told Forum News Service via online private messaging that her art classes rely on physical instruction and university-provided materials, so she has "no clue" how they will move forward.

Being a senior, Bonnes said she's trying to take advantage of classroom studio time and materials while she can to beef up her portfolio. And her senior capstone project is supposed to be an art show of her work in May, but now she's unsure if that will be able to happen.

"I am relieved a little though," she wrote. "I know a lot of students push through illness to make it to class and it’s nice to have an automatic out of that situation."

For Olivia Sullivan, a 23-year-old master's student studying maternal and child health, a lot of her classes already are online. But she drives from her home in Northfield to the Twin Cities campus twice a week to take courses in-person outside of her main program. She's particularly worried about one of her classes, epidemiological methods, because it's very math- and graph-focused.

"If it comes down to an online platform, I’m really going to lean on my classmates, texting them for help," she said. "I don't know how they’re going to get that across (online)."

Sullivan said she is accustomed to paying for her online courses, but for students whose courses are switching from all in-person to all online, she "can definitely see how that would breed resentment a little bit."

"I could see how for a lot of people, it would feel like you’re not getting what you’re paying for," she said.

Fellow Big 10 schools the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University have also suspended in-person classes. On Monday, the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth announced it was canceling all plans for foreign travel and staff were preparing for remote teaching and learning options if that should become necessary, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

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