Stay home: COVID-19 rocks USF, world

Kalan K. Birnie

Staff Writer

In our final issue before spring break, the Foghorn laid out the potential steps USF would take in the seemingly-unlikely event that COVID-19, the illness caused by a novel strain of coronavirus, affected the campus community. In the three weeks since that issue was released, it is safe to say that not only USF, but the world, has changed drastically.

At the time of publication, the virus has killed 21,287 worldwide, including over 1,000 in the U.S. In the Bay Area, 26 people have died from COVID-19.

Worldwide, billions have been instructed to stay home and minimize their contact with others, thereby limiting the potential spread of the virus. Some countries are under national lockdowns while, within the U.S., many states and local municipalities have issued variations of shelter-in-place orders. While specifics vary across the country, most of these orders mandate that all residents stay in their homes and are only allowed out for essential trips such as grocery runs, light exercise, or when seeking medical attention. People working within essential businesses and programs (such as medical practitioners, transit operators, and grocers) are exempt from the order.

In partnership with the five other counties in the Bay Area, the city and county of San Francisco became the first municipality in the country to issue such an order. Mayor London Breed announced the shelter-in-place order on March 16, and it went into effect on the morning of March 17. Under the order, any non-essential trips outside of the home are punishable as a misdemeanor, though authorities have emphasized that their focus is on disease prevention, rather than enforcement and punishment.


The USF Community

On March 7, the University announced that non-essential events and gatherings would be canceled through March 21. Spring break had just begun, but classes were expected to resume as scheduled after the break. Student organization meetings and events were deemed non-essential and were canceled. Other cancellations included the March 15 Silk Speaker Series event featuring U.S. women’s soccer team star Megan Rapinoe, which was postponed to an unspecified date in fall 2020.

Two days later, it was announced the School of Law had voluntarily switched to online remote learning. The next day, on March 10, the University announced that all instruction would move online through March 29. Students away from campus for spring break were told they would not need to return to San Francisco until that date, as they could attend online classes from anywhere.

More campus events were canceled or postponed. Notably, Kasamahan’s 2020 Barrio Fiesta Philipinx American Cultural Festival, originally scheduled for March 27 and 28, was canceled outright.

On March 11, the coronavirus outbreak in the Bay Area, and the U.S. nationally, seemed to reach a new level. That morning, Breed banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people. The NCAA announced that its annual college basketball tournament, often known as March Madness, had been canceled. That night, U.S. President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel from Europe to the U.S., and the University ordered all students studying abroad to return to the U.S. Within the hour, actor Tom Hanks and actress Rita Wilson announced that they had contracted COVID-19 in Australia. Minutes later, news broke that Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz had tested positive for the coronavirus. By the end of the night, the NBA had suspended its season indefinitely. The next day, the NHL, and MLB would do the same.

On the evening of March 12, the West Coast Conference announced that all spring athletics had been canceled. With that, the Dons athletics season was over.

Strangely, Friday, March 13 was relatively quiet for the USF community.

On the morning of March 14, President Paul Fitzgerald issued an announcement that instruction would move online for the remainder of the semester. Additionally, students living on campus were told that they needed to move out of their residence halls by noon on March 21, with some limited exceptions.

Student Housing and Residential Experience (SHaRE) announced it would refund students in a “fair and equitable way.” In an email sent on March 17, Kellie Samson, head of media relations at USF, said, “Students who vacate their residential spaces, even if items are left behind, on or before March 21, 2020 will receive a refund of housing fees on a prorated basis, based on their housing rate.”

According to Samson, “A refund will also be issued for all remaining Spring 2020 Flexi Dollars.” Students will have the option of donating a portion of their balance to the USF Food Pantry.

Some students had made travel plans to be away from campus until March 29, in accordance with USF’s initial announcement, and were suddenly thrust into the predicament of having to make last-second travel plans to return to San Francisco to empty their residences and then return to their homes. 

It was later announced that students would have the option to leave their possessions in their residence after March 21. At the student’s request, their belongings will either be boxed and stored, shipped to them directly (at the cost of shipping), or donated/discarded.

Torry Brouillard-Bruce, senior director of SHaRE, explained in an email on March 17, “This is not something SHaRE has historically done, so processes are being developed at this time.”

Classes resumed on March 18 after faculty were given two additional days to train and acquaint themselves with Zoom, the video conferencing platform used by the University for online instruction. Some have opted to continue their courses asynchronously, meaning students do not have to join the call at the same time and can instead watch recorded lessons in their own time and at their own pace.

Shirley McGuire, senior vice provost of academic affairs, said in an email, “The USF hallmark of a supportive, personalized approach to learning will continue in this new environment […] The Continuity of Instruction resource team is working with faculty on alternatives for students who are unable to connect via Zoom, which is not the only option.”

At the time of publication, it appears the Spring 2020 commencement and graduation ceremonies will be postponed to the fall. Samson explained, “Much depends on the COVID-19 situation and the guidance and orders from the city and the state of California that we receive going forward. The university is preparing various scenarios amid this constantly evolving environment, and we are considering all factors associated with timing, physical location, technological/web streaming, and travel restrictions.” 

With classes having since resumed, many students have signed a petition, created on March 22, requesting that the University switch to a mandatory pass-fail grading system. At the time of publication, the petition has amassed more than 1,500 signatures. On March 23, Samson told the Foghorn in an email, “USF deans and administrators are currently working on a policy and process for allowing pass/fail options.” Samson stated that more information would be released as a policy is developed.

The petition was briefly discussed at the March 25 ASUSF Senate meeting. At the meeting, ASUSF President Hector Bustos asked fellow senators if the Senate should endorse the petition. Many senators expressed interest in adopting a pass-fail grading system, however, a number of them disagreed with the petition’s goal of making pass-fail mandatory, as they were afraid some students still would want a letter grade that would count toward their GPA, amongst other reasons. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly-evolving situation. For the most up-to-date information on its effect on the USF community, check and the Foghorn’s social media outlets.

If you begin experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, contact a healthcare professional immediately, and minimize your physical contact with others.

Ethan Tan contributed to the reporting of this story.

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