By Morgan Hughes
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER – The University of Wyoming announced Wednesday it will move all classes online beginning Monday, amid soaring COVID-19 cases on campus and within the community at large.
Later Wednesday, Central Wyoming College also announced it would pivot to virtual learning Monday.
Students at both schools had already been expecting to switch to online classes instead of returning from Thanksgiving break, but a continued influx of new cases in Wyoming led the schools to start online classes a week earlier.
“The recent surge in cases among students and employees — there were 337 active cases reported Tuesday, up from 174 the week before — prompted the decision to move to Phase 4 a week earlier,” the UW release says.
Students who must stay on the Laramie campus will still be permitted and they will still be routinely tested for COVID-19, though no testing will be conducted during the week of Thanksgiving.
Final exams during the week of Dec. 7 will also be conducted online.
Wyoming’s sole four-year public university had previously planned to shift online after Thanksgiving to prevent students from potentially becoming infected while visiting family and then bringing the virus back to campus.
School officials are still encouraging students to self-quarantine for two weeks once they leave campus. The university does plan to have students on campus for the spring semester, which will begin Jan. 25, a week later than usual.
“Much as it has during the current fall semester, the university plans to offer a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes,” the announcement says.
But to prevent students from leaving campus and possibly becoming exposed to COVID-19 and returning with it, spring break has already been canceled.
In Riverton, Central Wyoming College will close its campus to the public Monday.
“We have been monitoring our dashboard as it has changed dramatically in the past 24 hours. Our state percent of positives has significantly increased (more than 20% now) in the past two weeks and our community healthcare systems are very stressed,” Dr. Kathy Wells, the school’s COVID-19 response leader, said in a release Wednesday.
The campus will close to the public Monday through Jan. 4, and all events during that time have been canceled.
Details on the spring semester will be released by Dec. 22, according to the school’s news release.
The pandemic across Wyoming has continually worsened since mid-September.
Cases plateaued in Wyoming in late spring before beginning a spike in mid-June. As a result, state health officials decided against their plans to eliminate almost all coronavirus restrictions.
But since late September, the state has continually exceeded previous highs for new cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, more than 8,000 infections were presumed or confirmed active in the state. That number had barely exceeded 1,000 in late September.
The surge has also led several Wyoming jurisdictions to enact local mask orders.
Such requirements are active on the Wind River Reservation, and in Teton, Laramie and Albany counties. Sublette County has also requested that the state approve a local mask order.
Gov. Mark Gordon has said he is not considering a statewide face mask requirement, but has urged residents to wear them.
The symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever and shortness of breath. Symptoms appear within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Health officials recommend self-isolating for two weeks if you have contact with a person who has the illness.