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Coronavirus prompts Brown University to send students home and move to online classes March 30

The Brown University campus last September.
The Brown University campus last September.Steven Senne/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE -- Brown University will move to online instruction for all undergraduate and graduate students on March 30 in response to the coronavirus, leaving the fate of commencement and annual spring class reunions uncertain.

Undergraduate students who live in on campus or in Brown-owned apartments off campus must move out by March 22 and finish the semester from their homes or some other location.

Brown is canceling classes next week to give the students time to pack and travel, and give the faculty time to prepare for the transition to remote learning.

Brown has 7,043 undergraduate students, 2,629 graduate students, and 816 full-time faculty.

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In a letter to the campus community, university president Christina H. Paxon acknowledged that the mortality rate of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, apparently is quite low for young adults. However, she pointed out that there are students and employees "who, due to age or underlying health conditions, may be at significant risk if they contract the virus.”

Also, Paxson said Brown does not have the facilities or personnel needed to manage a large-scale quarantine that would be necessary if the virus begins to spread. “The only way to limit this risk is to dramatically reduce the number of students residing at Brown,” she wrote. “Our first priority is to protect the health of our students and employees."

The announcement noted that there are no confirmed or presumptive cases of Covid-19 on the Brown campus. This week, tests came back negative for three Brown students who had been isolated after being exposed to the virus at a venue outside Rhode Island.

All but the most essential events have been canceled, including spring sports games and admissions events for prospective and accepted students. Visitors whose presence on campus isn’t essential are discouraged from coming to Brown.

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The university remains open, and academic and administrative offices continue to operate.

“I am sorry to have to share such heartbreaking news,” Paxson wrote. “The best part of Brown is the interactions we have with each other, in classrooms, dormitories and around campus.”

She said she feels bad for seniors whose “senior spring” is being disrupted. “My hope is that by May, the virus will have abated and we will be able to welcome our seniors and their families back to campus for commencement and reunion weekend,” Paxson wrote.

Brown is taking the step after other colleges in Rhode Island have moved to online instruction, including the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University, and Bryant University.

In Massachusetts, many colleges and universities have taken the same action, including the entire University of Massachusetts system, Boston University, Northeastern University, Boston College, Harvard University, Brandeis University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Berklee College of Music.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.