James Madison University Moves to Online Instruction After 500+ COVID-19 Cases Are Reported

Unlike some colleges and universities in the D.C. area, JMU did not require universal testing of all students who returned to campus

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James Madison University will move primarily to online learning after hundreds of students were diagnosed with COVID-19 less than two weeks after students returned to campus.

In-person classes will be moved online by Monday and students are asked to return home by then unless they get an exemption to stay, JMU President Jonathan Alger wrote in a letter posted on the school's website Tuesday evening. 

“As a result of a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in our student population in a short period of time, the university is concerned about capacity in the number of isolation and quarantine spaces we can provide,” Alger wrote. 

More than 500 positive cases among students were found at the university health center or self-reported since students begin moving into dorms on Aug. 21, according to an online dashboard from the school in Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

JMU, a public university, has about 20,000 undergraduate students.

With Tuesday's announcement, it joined a growing number of colleges around the U.S. that have reversed course or altered plans for in-person instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike some colleges and universities in the D.C. area, JMU did not require universal testing of all students who returned to campus, News4 reported last month. The school instead required students to quarantine for eight days.

A school representative said last month that the university planned to save its testing supplies for those who showed possible symptoms.

“Testing materials continue to be a limited resource and lab turnaround times are significantly negatively affected when more tests need to be processed,” they said. 

University officials will notify the campus community by Sept. 25 about whether in-person instruction will resume on or after Oct. 5, according to the school president's letter.

Washington, D.C.-area colleges and universities are trying to prevent coronavirus outbreaks on their campuses, but there is a wide range in testing requirements and procedures according to a review by the News4 I-Team. Scott MacFarlane reports.

The school said Tuesday that while courses are moving primarily online, campus amenities such as dining, health and wellness services still will be offered.

“Decisions about refunds have not yet been made, but we will communicate with students and families as soon as possible on that topic,” Alger wrote.

Laith Mekouar was a freshman at James Madison University when the coronavirus pandemic closed his campus back in March. Mekouar discusses how his college experience will change in the fall and how he feels about returning to school with coronavirus cases rising.

Associated Press/NBC Washington
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