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Baltimore County colleges and universities will be holding classes almost entirely online after Thanksgiving

On the campus of an almost-deserted University of Maryland, Baltimore County in April, overlooking Academic Row outside the University Center. Post-Thanksgiving, classes at the school are meeting entirely online.
On the campus of an almost-deserted University of Maryland, Baltimore County in April, overlooking Academic Row outside the University Center. Post-Thanksgiving, classes at the school are meeting entirely online. (Jeffrey F. Bill)

With the holiday season quickly approaching, colleges and universities in Baltimore County will be meeting almost entirely online after Thanksgiving for the rest of the semester to try to prevent a surge in coronavirus cases.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the Community College of Baltimore County, which has a campus in Catonsville; Towson University, and Goucher College in Towson are either continuing to meet remotely or will be transitioning to almost entirely online learning to ensure the health and safety of their students, faculty and staff during the holiday season, officials at the various schools said.

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At UMBC, the university this semester adopted a “hybrid” learning model, which combines in-person and online components, with 10,248 students learning completely online.

However, in the weeks following Thanksgiving, classes will meet online only.

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Faculty, staff and students who are approved to be on campus are required to fill out a daily symptom tracker and test regularly for COVID-19.

Of the 6,832 faculty, staff and students tested on campus, 41 had positive results, putting the university at a 0.6% positivity rate for the semester, according to the UMBC Public Health Dashboard. That puts the positivity rate well below the county’s rate, which has hovered above 6%.

Nancy Young, vice president for student affairs at UMBC, said the university plans to end the semester online as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

During Thanksgiving break, most students will return home, while a number of approved students will remain on campus.

“During that time period, we will have a small number [of] students remain on campus either because they are working or they have multigenerational homes or lack shelter or food at home,” she said.

Those who remain on campus will continue to participate in regular testing, while the university will introduce “self-swabbing,” which will allow them to collect their own nasal samplings under the remote supervision of a nurse or physician.

Since the start of the semester, Young said the university has not had to make many changes to its health and safety precautions.

As positivity rates remained consistently low, the university had at one point been able to allow indoor dining.

A key to maintaining low positivity rates, she said, is the symptom tracker. At the start of the semester, she said, it was a challenge getting the campus into the habit of filling it out daily.

“Human beings are creatures of habit and it was not a habit to do that,” she said. “We are seeing that working much better and just in time for the higher prevalence [of coronavirus cases].”

Like UMBC, CCBC is continuing to take health and safety precautions heading into the holiday season.

Sandra Kurtinitis, president of CCBC, said some classes will be transitioning completely online after Thanksgiving.

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Offering five campuses besides Catonsville’s across the county — Dundalk, Essex, Hunt Valley, Owings Mills and Randallstown — the college plans to reduce the number of staff on its campuses during the winter season.

Since the start of the semester, she said the health and safety precautions the college put in place, like face masks, social distancing and temperature checks, seem to have worked well. Since the spring, 103 faculty, staff and students across all six campuses have tested positive for the novel virus, according to the CCBC Coronavirus Dashboard Report.

In addition to offering classes online, the college has been able to offer in-person classes for students who needed to learn on-site.

“Because the rate of positivity has been remarkably low, we know that our protocols have been successful,” Kurtinitis said. “We [offered in-person classes] because we did not want to see a vast number of students have to withdraw or interrupt their learning just because they could not handle remote learning.”

To further reduce the number of people on campus after Thanksgiving, though, current in-person classes that can meet online will do so, while those that are more hands-on will continue to meet in-person in a socially distanced environment.

Despite its challenges, Kurtinitis said she wants the college to continue to serve its students.

“We really are a college that likes to say we put our money where our mission is and we put our priorities where our mission is,” she said. “We believe in our mission, and we believe mission means serving students who need all types of learning modalities.”

Towson University, meanwhile, will be finishing out the fall semester online.

Of the 16,567 faculty, staff and students tested for the coronavirus, 515 were positive since Aug. 1, according to the school’s website.

The university has promoted health and safety precautions through its campaign, Tigers Care, which reminds faculty, staff and students of the practices they should take to maintain a healthy and safe community.

In addition to providing visible reminders, the university has offered symptom screening and testing to monitor the existence of the virus on campus.

Sean Welsh, interim vice president of marketing and communications at Towson, said the university plans to remind faculty, staff and students to continue to follow the health and safety guidelines heading into the holiday season.

“Now is not the time to let up,” he said. “Now is the time to continue showing that Tigers Care and continuing to practice all the best practices that have been put forth.”

Looking ahead, he said the university will use the fall semester to determine what campus life will look like in the spring.

“We’ve learned a great deal this fall,” he said. “We’ve learned a great deal about how we can continue to provide all that this university does as a university for the public good in the midst of this ongoing pandemic.”

Goucher College on July 31 reversed a decision to open its campus to some students for the fall semester. The college has been holding all its fall classes online, and, according to Goucher President Kent Deveraux at the time, only students with a “critical need” for on-campus housing would be living on campus.

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