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Harvard Medical School says incoming students will learn online; UMass Medical School will hold classes on campus

Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston.
Gordon Hall at Harvard Medical School in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Students entering Harvard Medical School this fall will learn remotely to help avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, while returning students will likely have access to at least some on-site research and clinical facilities, administrators announced Wednesday.

The state’s only public medical school, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said it expects to hold classes on campus for the fall but remote learning will likely be necessary to limit class sizes, an administrator said.

The differing decisions demonstrate the challenges facing academic institutions amid the uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic.

Harvard Medical School hopes that all students can safely return to campus by January, but is “mindful of the many unknowns and will update our projections as new information becomes available,” four deans said in a message to the campus community.

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Those who will study online in the fall include medical, dental, and graduate students, as well as professionals enrolled in executive education programs, according to the message signed by four deans.

Testifying for a Senate panel on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said there would be no vaccine before fall classes begin at the nation’s colleges and public schools and cautioned that it’s unlikely there will be a treatment widely available by that time.

UMass Medical School said in a statement it will observe all appropriate precautions in the fall “to align with the public health and workplace safety guidelines that are in place.” .

UMass Medical’s current guidelines include required testing for COVID-19, a universal mask policy, social distancing of at least 6 feet, frequent handwashing, daily sanitization of work areas, and other measures.

Dr. Anne Larkin, UMass Medical’s senior associate dean for educational affairs, said classes will look different in the fall. Some may have half their students in the classroom and the other half watching online, and large lecture courses could be scaled down to allow students to socially distance, Larkin said.

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“We know we’re not going to be able to have our entire class of 162 students together at one time,” she said in a phone interview. But, she added, “We know that some component of face-to-face and hands-on learning is critical. . . . There certainly will be a greater prevalence of small-group learning.”

At Harvard Medical School, administrators will provide further details on housing, travel, financial aid, and start dates to incoming and current students in the coming days, the deans said. They will also help instructors prepare online courses that meet Harvard’s standards, they said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.