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COVID-19: How Arizona's universities are responding to the pandemic

Arizona's public universities have taken different approaches to combat the spread of the coronavirus

coronavirus arizona universities.jpg

Graphic published on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

Last week, universities all over the country announced plans to cancel in-person classes and move instruction online in response to the spread of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus. 

Among those were ASU, NAU and UA, Arizona's four-year public institutions. But each university's plans are slightly different from one another and from other major universities around the country. 

Extending spring break

Multiple universities in other parts of the country, such as UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina and UT-Austin in Texas, have extended their spring breaks to give faculty extra time to prepare for the transition to online classes. 

ASU chose not to do so and resumed classes on March 16 as planned, though those classes are now largely online. The University began piloting the Zoom program prior to spring break to prepare for the possibility of canceling in-person classes, President Michael Crow told the State Press in a meeting shortly before spring break.

ASU announced on Monday that the University will hold classes online for the rest of the semester instead of the two weeks after spring break that was originally planned. The announcement meant that all three of Arizona's public four-year institutions officially moved to online learning for the rest of spring semester. 

NAU also did not announce plans to extend its spring break, which will take place from March 16 to March 20. The university will transition to online instruction on March 23.

UA, whose spring break took place from March 7 to March 15, will resume classes online on March 18 instead of returning to in-person instruction on March 16. 

University resources

President Crow said in a University-wide announcement on March 11 that campus housing will remain open, as will "food service, health clinics, counseling services, research labs and all other aspects of the university" except for in-person classes. 

NAU plans to keep the same facilities open, according to its coronavirus-dedicated website. 

UA will also keep the same facilities open, but encouraged students who have already left campus and have a "suitable alternative" to campus housing to avoid returning to campus, according to its website

Other schools throughout the country, including Harvard University in Massachusetts and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, required students to move out of residence halls within several days of announcing the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the semester. 

Domestic and international travel

All three Arizona universities have suspended all university-funded domestic and international travel.  They have also strongly discouraged non-essential personal travel, whether domestic or international.

Additionally, ASU is requiring all students and employees who have traveled from a Level 3 country or other high-risk area since March 1 to either self-isolate for 14 days or self-monitor upon their return, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Self-monitoring individuals who become symptomatic are asked to self-isolate and contact their healthcare providers. 

UA and NAU have required the same guidelines for self-isolation and monitoring after travel from a Level 3 or high-risk area. 

High-risk travel includes travel by cruise ships, any domestic or international air travel, and travel by any means to Washington state, New York City, California, Florida or London, according to ASU's March 13 announcement. 

Level 3 countries and areas are defined by the CDC as ones with widespread sustained and ongoing transmission of the coronavirus.

These include China, South Korea, Iran, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City.

Study abroad

All three universities have suspended multiple study abroad programs in response to the spread of the virus. 

ASU had previously canceled all study abroad programs in South Korea and mainland China through summer 2020 and all spring 2020 programs in Italy, according to the University's study abroad website. Afterward, the University also canceled all spring 2020 programs in Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

UA has canceled all study abroad programs to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. The university also said that students who choose to remain in other countries after their programs have been canceled are doing so "against the advice and without the support" of the institution.

NAU canceled all faculty-led study abroad programs through May and has requested that all students and faculty currently in programs overseas return to the U.S.

All three universities have emphasized that students returning from study abroad programs should follow national travel and self-isolation guidelines, including self-isolating for at least 14 days upon returning to the U.S. 

One NAU student won't be able to return immediately from her study abroad trip to Greece, however. 

Madeline Snyder, a sophomore majoring in psychology at NAU, contracted the coronavirus during her trip and is currently recovering before returning to her family's home in the Phoenix area. 

Snyder said that she began exhibiting symptoms of the virus, including body aches and a fever, around a week ago. When a friend of hers tested positive, she decided to seek medical help.

"I was like, 'I don't think I'm just sick,'" Snyder said. "I put two and two together and figured I had also gotten it."

Snyder was at Deree College, or The American College of Greece, to study Greek culture and language. She's disappointed that the trip ended this way, but said that getting tested and staying inside wasn't a hard choice to make.

"I think everyone has a social and moral responsibility to the people around them to not get other people sick," she said. That was something big about me getting sick — I was like, 'I need to stay in my room, I need to let [the university] know, I need to get tested, I need to not get anyone else sick.'" 


The Pac-12 decided last week to cancel all conference and nonconference sports competitions and championships through the end of the academic year. The NCAA also canceled all remaining winter and spring championship events, including the upcoming men's and women's basketball tournaments. 

Sun Devil Athletics and Arizona Athletics at UA both reiterated the decision to cancel the events. 

Read more: Pac-12 conference cancels all sports for 2019-20 academic school year

The Big Sky Conference, which includes NAU's sports teams, has also suspended all intercollegiate competition until further notice.

Campus events 

ASU said in an announcement on March 13 that all public events on any ASU campus that are not "directly related to the educational or research mission of the university" are canceled for at least the next 30 days. 

UA said in a statement from Provost Liesl Folks that all events or gatherings on campus will be canceled or rescheduled, and that other updates will follow directly from event organizers. Folks also said that all in-person meetings or gatherings, whether formal or informal, should include no more than four people and that students should practice social distancing. 

NAU said in a statement on March 12 from President Rita Cheng that campus events and programs are currently being reviewed, and that notices about changes will be communicated to students on an ongoing basis.


UA announced on March 20 that spring commencement ceremonies will not take place in-person as originally planned. 

President Robert C. Robbins said in a notice to students that the university will share alternative plans with its students in the coming weeks, including an "alternate graduation experience" to occur on May 15. The notice added that students can participate in a future commencement ceremony in December 2020 or May 2021. 

NAU also announced on March 24 that in-person spring commencement ceremonies and related events had been canceled.

"I can imagine how disappointed each of you must be and how much you and your families have looked forward to celebrating your achievements," said President Rita Cheng in a notice to students. "However, this decision is necessary to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of our community during this unprecedented global health crisis."

The notice added that all May graduates are invited to walk in a special ceremony on Dec. 12, in addition to participating in a virtual ceremony this spring. 

ASU still has yet to make a final decision on spring commencement. 

"The last thing that we would do is say we're canceling graduation," Crow said in a meeting with The State Press on March 23. However, he also conceded that it doesn't look likely that the school will host an in-person assembly this spring.

Instead, Crow said the University is working on coming up with a creative alternative. 

"Now, the other thing we thought about is that if we can't assemble in May of (20)20, we may just have the most, the most fantastic party you could possibly imagine," he said. "On the first day, we can get everybody together, and we won't have it as a graduation, we'll just have it as a celebration."

He added that a decision will be made at least a month before the planned commencement, if not sooner.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated on March 24 to reflect commencement plans made by NAU and UA. 

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