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UW cancels in-person classes amid coronavirus outbreak

Administrators say the decision was made before they learned of a University of Washington staff member who tested positive for 2019 novel coronavirus.

SEATTLE — Beginning Monday, the University of Washington will not have classes in person through the end of the quarter on March 20. 

UW President Ana Mari Cauce wrote a letter to faculty and staff Friday asking instructors to hold classes and exams remotely. If classes can't be held remotely, the university will allow grades to be submitted based on work done to this point.

Pending health department guidance, the university plans to resume normal class operations on March 30 when the spring quarter begins.

The announcement was made as King County battles a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 13 people and sickened dozens more.

RELATED: Real-time updates: Washington state coronavirus outbreak

Cauce told reporters Friday afternoon that the decision to cancel in-person classes was based on public health recommendations as the outbreak has spread.

"How can we ensure their educational continuity, but at the same time keep in mind their health and safety," Cauce said.

The decision applies to UW's three campus locations in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell.

Though classes won't be in person, the university remains open, and campus facilities, including health care and research facilities, remain open. Students who live on campus will be allowed to stay, though extra measures are being taken in shared areas, especially the dining halls, administrators said. 

Cauce added that many students had already decided on their own to stop coming to in-person classes.

"When you start getting to the point where 25 to 30 percent of students in a class [is] participating remotely, we have to think about what is the best thing for our students as a group," she said.

Cauce said so far, the UW has not banned travel or gatherings and events, and it will be up to individual departments and campus groups to decide on postponements and cancellations.

Though the UW is planning for classes to resume as normal when spring quarter starts on March 30, Cauce said administrators are considering scenarios where the university continues to mandate remote learning.

Cauce emphasized that the decision to cancel in-person classes was made before they learned that a UW staff member who works at a building west of the main Seattle campus tested positive for 2019 novel coronavirus.

Administrators said they received the information about the staff member Thursday night. The staff member works in the Roosevelt Commons East, in the 4300 block of 11th Ave. Northeast, according to a letter sent Friday from Geoffrey S. Gottlieb, interim chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases.

The employee was last in the building on February 24, 27 and 28 and is now in self-isolation at home.

The infected person is believed to have had "limited contact" with anyone outside their immediate office floor. Those who were in direct contact with the individual were contacted and asked to stay home for 14 days after their last contact with the person, according to Gottlieb.

RELATED: These Washington schools are closed due to coronavirus concerns

Seattle University also canceled in-person classes through the end of the quarter, based on public health recommendations. Lake Washington Institute for Technology earlier this week closed its campus after a faculty member had tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus, and on Friday announced that the campus would move to remote operations through March 20.