Instruction to move online; university will remain open

In response to a March 10 prompt from the state Board of Regents, Iowa State instructors will teach their courses online Monday, March 23, through Friday, April 3. The two-week period comes on the heels of spring break week, and it could be extended if concerns remain about protecting students and university employees from the coronavirus.

The universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa announced similar instructional plans Wednesday covering the same time period.

Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert told members of the media March 11 the change impacts lectures, discussion sections, seminars and similar activities held in a classroom. Labs, studios, performance instruction, computer labs and other hands-on formats won't meet, he said, and each academic program will decide what to offer as substitute assignments or make-up activities, whether during or after the two weeks.

"We are very confident we're making the best decision -- and the right decision for Iowa State --by putting the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff as our overriding priority," he said, adding that it's consistent with current best practices in higher education.

Assistant vice president for student health and wellness Erin Baldwin reiterated that there are no reported cases of the COVID-19 disease yet in Story County, including on campus.

On March 10, the state Board of Regents also extended its 30-day ban on university-sponsored international travel by seven days each Monday, until conditions improve. The board left domestic travel decisions to the three regent universities, though its recommendation is to "avoid areas with high numbers of identified cases of COVID-19."

Wickert said online learning specialists in the colleges and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) have begun to help faculty migrate their courses to online formats. He invited students whose homes aren't equipped for them to participate in online classes to use the nearest ISU Extension and Outreach office. Offices are in all 99 counties and equipped with high-speed internet. Laptops may be checked out from the university library and some colleges, he added.

Iowa State is open

The university isn't closing for two weeks. Specifically, Wickert said student services -- such as student health, student counseling, academic advising, career services -- will be available. A number of dining locales will be open and residence halls and apartments will stay open to students who register online with the residence department by March 18. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, both at the College of Veterinary Medicine, will remain open.

Baldwin said all merit, supervisory and professional and scientific employees should come to work during the two-week period unless they're ill or receive other directions.

Baldwin encouraged faculty, staff and students who are on campus during the two weeks to avoid community spread of COVID-19 by limiting in-person meetings to essential university business -- and meeting in large rooms so participants can sit farther apart from each other.

Restrictions on large events

To reduce incidents in which larger crowds gather on campus, chief of police Michael Newton said case-by-case decisions are being made about events scheduled for campus venues. Some events already have been canceled, including ISU Research Day (March 24-25), the state science and technology fair for middle school and high school students (March 26-27), lectures program events (through April 10), indoor high school track meets (March 16-17) and campus visits for prospective and admitted students (through April 6). Friday's Cyclone gymnastics meet at Hilton won't be open to spectators. He said decisions haven't been made yet about commencement and new student orientation in June.

A changes and closures list has been added to the university's safety website, and it will be updated frequently.

"It comes down to remembering that our No. 1 priority is the safety and health of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus. Balancing that relative to continuity of operations, we're evaluating those large events on a case-by-case basis with that philosophy in mind," Wickert said.

Emergency operations plan is working

Newton said the university's "robust" emergency operations plan was activated in late January when three students studying in China were summoned home due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak in that country.

In addition to a central coordinating team, the plan's effectiveness, he said, relies on close collaboration with the senior leadership team and the distribution of labor -- hours and hours of labor -- to working groups. One of those is a large gatherings working group, currently cataloging the next two months of large events and discussing options with their organizer(s).

To date, there are 11 campus working groups involving dozens of employees. The first working groups started meeting in late January; the most recent activated last week. Each team is studying options and developing solutions to actual or potential interruptions to "business as usual."

Emergency response working groups

Academic continuity

Ensure continued course instruction if the university must suspend classroom meetings.

Community partners

Coordinate preparation, response and recovery with city, county and state healthcare, public safety and government entities.

Finance and logistics

Identify financial impacts to university of necessary changes. Develop plan for purchasing critical resources if supply chain disruptions occur.

Health services

Manage public health aspects of the university's preparations for, response to and recovery from a COVID-19 outbreak.


Coordinate self-isolation for students who must live on campus, and develop plans for COVID-19 exposure or infection in the campus residence community.

Human resources

Develop and distribute policies for employee accommodations, absence policies and related issues.

Large events/gatherings

Inventory upcoming large events on campus and develop guidelines for canceling or modifying them that is consistent with CDC and Iowa Dept. of Public Health updates.

Public information

Share timely, accurate updates with the campus community and other audiences

Research continuity

Develop plan to continue essential research functions.

Study abroad

Coordinate early returns for study abroad groups and develop plans to keep students academically "whole" when their program is canceled.

Workforce protection

Share guidelines to prevent employee infection, and monitor availability of personal protective supplies.