WASHINGTON – The George Washington University campus and surrounding neighborhoods buzzed this week with students hurrying to class. A couple of days passed before the spring break and they were finishing tests, reaching friends and packing.
For the most part, the packaging and farewells would have been much longer than expected days before.
The university, with a downtown campus isolated from the White House, is one of the universities hundreds across the country have suspended face-to-face instructions and moved most of its online classes in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. George Washington’s spring break will begin next week and the university administration has told students to leave their dormitories by March 21st. The lessons will be online at least until April 5th.
Across the country, the normal dizziness of the upcoming holidays and mid-course stress have largely been replaced with anxiety about coping with coronavirus. In every block in this campus, people were discussing the virus and how they would handle it.
It was a final wave of activity before college students disappeared, perhaps for months.
Talia Pfeffer, a George Washington junior studying psychology, is still trying to figure out what it means to her. On Thursday morning, the wheels of his purple suitcase snapped on the sidewalk as he headed for the airport. Miami is home and not sure how long it will stay there. She, like many students interviewed by USA TODAY, was not sure how her lessons would translate into the digital space.
College is also a social time for many and Pfeffer was worried about his friendships. It had been scheduled to celebrate her 21st birthday later this semester in Nellie, a popular ballroom in town. He wondered: would he have the chance to see his friends again, especially the elderly who were about to finish their studies?
This is anyone’s guess right now.
Almost 2,200 people were infected in the United States and 47 people died, according to data tracked down by Johns Hopkins University. And colleges and universities have largely decided on their own, not under government direction, to stop classes in person.
For some universities, the transition to online instructions may take only a few weeks. Other universities, such as George Washington and nearby Georgetown University, have instructed students to leave dormitories.
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Moving to online courses brings big changes for Daniel Hines, 34, who is studying acting at George Washington. Some of the performances that his class had to organize had to be moved or canceled. The online instructions will involve shooting on his own, he said, not exactly how to perform live. However, his concerns are deeper.
“I am concerned about the global impact.”
Outside Thurston Hall, a George Washington dormitory designated for first year students, the students transported luggage and boxes full of their clothes and other dorm supplies to idling vehicles. For some, going home may be a journey by car, but for Karim Thabet, a first-year student, it means traveling abroad. He comes from Egypt and his parents want me to come back.
“They want me home so they feel safer,” he said Thursday.
Study economics and play squash, which is part of why he came to America. As he fumbled with his carry-on suitcase, he said he wasn’t sure if and when he would return, given the travel restrictions in the United States, he was also worried about online courses, which he has never tried, and which he thinks will be difficult. to manage. Many students today told the USA that they fear that studying in all time zones would be cumbersome.
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Ezzy Makh, a junior, met her parents outside the dormitory on Thursday. They had moved away from Maryland to pick her up and her mother, Vero Debsia, had said that she would be happy to have her daughter at home, even though she felt that the university could react exaggeratedly.
Makh said he believed the university’s response may have come too late. Why haven’t the officials been faster, he asked, to stop organizing events? And they could have put in place multiple stations for hand sanitization, he suggested.
“It’s a big inconvenience for us,” he said. However, “I know they are just trying to help.”
Across the city, Georgetown University was on spring break, but the campus still had some signs of life on Thursday, as people roamed the campuses and athletes trained. (The NCAA recently canceled the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and other winter and spring championships. ) The university is also moving its online classes starting Monday. And he encouraged the students to “return to their permanent addresses”.
This is not in the papers of Damare Baker, a young man, who lives in university housing across the campus.
He comes from Mississippi and does not have the resources to book a return trip and return on an undetermined timeline. So he asked the university to leave her alone for the time being.
“I’m a first-generation college student,” he said Thursday. “Being on campus is important because many of us don’t have the Internet at home. We don’t have the funds to buy plane tickets to go home, especially because we don’t know when we’ll be able to come back.”
As for the coronavirus itself, she said that she is not too worried and has been diligent in washing her hands.
Back in George Washington, Evelina Veguilla and Leigh Purrington, both 19 years old, discussed what the rest of the semester would look like. They talked about canceled spring break trips and wondered how well their teachers would be able to transfer their lessons online. Private universities, they said, were expensive to attend, and face-to-face lessons and campus experience are what they signed up for. After all, Purrington said, there were many online-only schools he could have attended.
Local businesses that rely on university traffic also feel the effect of coronavirus anxiety. Reiter’s Books, a shop selling a mix of textbooks and other literature near George Washington, was empty around Thursday lunchtime. Normally, there would have been almost no free table in the sitting area. People would have lined up around the shop for coffee.
Josue Ayala, a longtime employee at the shop, said he wondered if the news media was partly responsible for the concern about the virus. He wasn’t sure, he said, if the company could continue to suffer a lasting blow.
This concern will be verified in real time: online lessons in George Washington could extend beyond April 5, if the virus continues to spread.
US education coverage TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial contributions.