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University of Maryland delays in-person classes for undergraduates, but students can still move into dorms

The University of Maryland, College Park, moved Monday to delay the start on in-person undergraduate classes until at least Sept. 14 amid a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases statewide.

The university’s semester still will begin Aug. 31, but all undergraduate classes will be held online for at least the first two weeks of the semester, according to an email sent to students from university President Darryll Pines.

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“I know this two-week delay is disappointing,” Pines wrote, “but it will permit us to phase in the resumption of on-campus activities and allow us to implement campus-wide virus testing.”

The university’s announcement also comes after several universities in the state reversed their plans for in-person classes, including Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland and Goucher College. But each of those schools announced a fully online semester, and didn’t simply delay in-person courses.

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Pines said the delay will give the University of Maryland more time to analyze county and campus testing positivity rates, as well as the “availability and need” for isolation and quarantine spaces.

“We will not hesitate to pivot to more stringent measures if dictated by these initial assessments, and health conditions within our state, county or campus,” Pines wrote.

Students still will move into the campus dorms as scheduled, Pines said, but will be asked to “stay in their residences as a precautionary measure as much as possible through September 14.”

The dorms will be less than 45% full based on current projections, Pines wrote. The deadline for students to choose on-campus housing has been extended until noon Wednesday. All campus dining will be “grab-and-go,” Pines added.

Instruction for graduate students and approved research activities will continue as planned, Pines wrote.

The announcement comes amid a fresh surge in COVID-19 cases in Maryland. Prince George’s County, where the university is located, has long led the state in coronavirus cases per 1,000 residents. Currently, there are 26.2 cases per 1,000 residents in the county. In his email, Pines cited the county’s testing positivity rate — 5.40%. Prince George’s is one of just two jurisdictions in the state with a rate above 5% — the benchmark recommended by the World Health Organization officials for reopening.

The University of Maryland is the first school in the University System of Maryland to announce a move to delay in-person classes. The system, which includes about a dozen other campuses — including Towson University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County — is planning for a “hybrid” semester with a mixture of online and in-person course offerings. More than 80% of classes at the University of Maryland are online.

The system recently announced a mandatory COVID-19 testing policy for students returning to campus. Returning students must provide proof of a negative test, and if they test positive they will not be permitted to return, officials said.

“I know many of our students want to know if they should come to campus or not. Unfortunately, that is a question I cannot answer,” Pines wrote in his email. “Instead, I urge every student to have a thoughtful conversation with their families and loved ones and decide what is right for them.”

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