University’s decision is part of continuing response to concerns about the spread of coronavirus

March 11, 2020

More than 2,900 Princeton students have signed a petition requesting the University consider reevaluating the weight of midterms or postponing them in light of recent events surrounding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The petition was created March 10 by Jacqueline Xu ’22 and Addie Jung ’22, according to The Daily Princetonian. (The Prince editorial board supported the petition as well.) “This will grant students the opportunity to prioritize their health and safety, without the pressure of upholding Princeton's typical academic standards,” Xu and Jung wrote in the petition, noting that students are facing additional stress as they consider travel plans. A follow-up story in the Prince reported that faculty have been urged to consider re-weighting midterm exams. A second petition to ensure that students would not be evicted from Princeton’s campus drew more than 2,900 signatures. The University Press Club reported today that the University will not force students to vacate the campus but aims to “decrease the density of students on campus” to comply with public-health recommendations.

University Health Services announced a suspension of routine medical and occupational health services to enable the department “to focus its resources on preparations for and response to COVID-19.” Some appointments are moving to remote care, including counseling and psychological services.

READ MORE Follow PAW’s online updates on the coronavirus response

The Ivy League presidents expanded the scope of athletics cancellations to include all spring competition for the remainder of the semester. “In accordance with the guidance of public-health and medical professionals, several Ivy League institutions have announced that students will not return to campus after spring break, and classes will be held virtually during the semester,” the league wrote in a March 11 release. “Given this situation, it is not feasible for practice and competition to continue.” Decisions about whether to allow winter teams and student-athletes to compete in postseason play have been left to individual institutions. Princeton has not yet announced its plans.

Men’s and women’s basketball players and fans have been urging the Ivy League to reinstate its postseason basketball tournaments. More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that went online yesterday. Princeton coaches Mitch Henderson ’98 and Carla Berube released statements expressing their disappointment that their players would not be able to compete this weekend. The Big West and Mid-America conferences have restricted attendance at their basketball tournaments, but the Ivy is the only league that has canceled postseason games.

March 10, 2020

The University announced that two staff members are under self-quarantine as a result of possible exposure to the novel coronavirus at an off-campus gathering. Planet Princeton reported that according to local health officials, the two staff members attended a private party with about 30 people, including two people from the Boston area who have since “tested presumed positive” for the coronavirus. The two Boston-area cases are related to a late February meeting at the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech company Biogen, the source of more than 30 coronavirus cases, according to the Boston Herald. The two Princeton staff members are being tested for COVID-19, according to the update posted on the University’s coronavirus information site, and expect results “in the coming days.”

READ MORE The University’s website for sharing the latest information related to COVID-19

Since the University released its guidance discouraging large gatherings, a host of campus events have been canceled, including April’s Princeton Preview program for admitted students. The Admission Office has put information sessions and campus tours on hold as well. The University is slated to reassess its guidelines by April 5, and according to Alexandra Day ’02, the deputy vice president for alumni engagement, “discussions are ongoing about events beyond that date, including Reunions.”

In athletics, the Ivy League presidents decided to cancel the upcoming Ivy men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, scheduled to be held at Harvard March 13-15. The decision was based on guidance from public-health and medical professionals, according to a release from the league. The league is also “implementing highly restrictive, in-venue spectator limitations” for upcoming games and events and canceling out-of-season practices and competitions. Teams may continue in postseason play, the league said, “in accordance with institutional policies.” The Princeton women’s basketball team will be the Ivy’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament by virtue of its regular-season championship. Other Princeton winter teams with athletes competing in postseason events include men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s fencing, men’s indoor track and field, and wrestling.

Original story, March 9, 2020

All lectures, seminars, and precepts at Princeton will move to virtual instruction starting March 23 in an attempt to minimize the risk of the 2019 novel coronavirus on campus, according to a March 9 announcement from President Eisgruber ’83. 

“Though we recognize that a personal, ‘high touch’ educational environment is one of Princeton’s great strengths,” Eisgruber wrote, “we also recognize that these are extraordinary times that require exceptional measures to deal with a health risk that affects us all.”

The announcement comes one week before spring break, for which all University-sponsored trips have been canceled and students have been discouraged from traveling to high-risk locations on personal travel. Students have been given the option of staying at home and fulfilling their academic requirements remotely until at least April 5, after which the University said it will “reassess the policies” put in place.

Students at Frist Campus Center had mixed reactions to the news. “Better safe than sorry,” said Demi Zhang ’21, who noted she’s been paying particular attention to the situation because she has family in China. She plans to stay on campus and hopes to attend the upcoming PrinceCon, a role-playing-game convention scheduled for March 13-15, which remained on the calendar as of March 9. “I have reached out to the people in charge of that program to ask what measures they’ve taken,” she said.

Jack Gardner ’22 is opting to return home to Tucson, Ariz. He has altered his plans twice, first canceling an international trip for spring break and now changing his return flight back to Princeton. Gardner said he can understand the need to act. “I know we’re switching to online classes, but I feel like the logistics of that haven’t really been spelled out,” he said. 

Some are waiting to get answers to those logistical questions before deciding whether they can leave campus. Richmond Aririguzoh ’20 plays for the basketball team, so he plans to stay on campus as games are expected to go on as scheduled. Matthew Helm ’20, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, also plans to stay because he needs to use the machine shop for his thesis work. Leaving campus “would put me back two weeks, which is a long time to not be working,” Helm said.

Since January, Princeton has prohibited students, faculty, and staff from traveling to high-risk countries for University business. As of early March, these countries include China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Some study-abroad programs involving Princeton students have been canceled or postponed.

Rachel Mrkaich ’21, who was studying in Florence, Italy, in a program led by Syracuse University, returned to the United States in February after her program was canceled. Although she will continue taking three of her four classes online, she is unsure whether Princeton University will consider her semester complete without the fourth course, which will be hosted on the Syracuse campus — and which Mrkaich does not plan to attend.

Sharing in Mrkaich’s uncertainty are other undergraduates who had planned on taking classes, participating in internships, or conducting research abroad during the upcoming summer.

Diana Zhang ’22, who until late February had planned on participating in a summer internship in Shanghai, China, through the Princeton Startup Immersion Program (PSIP), said the recent cancellation of her program has left her “uneasy.”

“Hopefully I’ll be able to find an internship somewhere in the United States,” Zhang said. The Keller Center, which runs the PSIP program, is attempting to find alternate opportunities for affected students in New York City. Given that many internships have already closed their application windows, however, Zhang is worried that she might not find a viable alternative in time.

Zhang’s parents reside in Guangzhou, China, so she may not be able to return home, either. “The summer was supposed to be a perfect opportunity for me to go back home,” she said. “Now I don’t know what to do, because going home would also be dangerous.”

In a similar bind are international students who are unsure about the prospect of returning home after spending the academic year far from family. Some seniors are worried that their families may not be able to attend their graduation from Princeton.

Along with the PSIP program, other canceled or postponed programs involve language programs and international internships run through the Office of International Programs. The Novogratz Bridge Year Program students initially based in Kunming, China, relocated to Taiwan in early February and are scheduled to remain there until the end of the program May 1.

In anticipation of spring break in mid-March, the University has urged students and faculty in a Mar. 4  alert to consider postponing travel “given the potential logistical challenges of returning to campus.” Classes with spring break trips on their syllabi — such as a freshman seminar set to travel to London — have now canceled the travel component of their curriculum. Other group travel programs, including the Pace Center for Civil Engagement’s two Breakout Princeton trips, to Nashua, N.H., and San Francisco, Calif., have been canceled as well.

Not all news has been bleak, however. In response to the outbreak, the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Princeton University (ACSSPU) has organized two fundraising initiatives since late January to purchase and send medical supplies to hospitals in Wuhan, China, currently home to the largest number of confirmed cases in the world.

During the first initiative, advertised predominantly on the Chinese social-media platform WeChat, the group raised $22,500, which was used to purchase 46 large boxes’ worth of face masks and goggles for Xie He Hospital in Wuhan. After spending hours manually going through each order and making sure they abided by Chinese standards, the students — many of them graduate students from China — sent their first shipment to Wuhan. It arrived on Feb. 12.

“We are all Chinese. Our country is in a hard time, so we wanted to do something,” said Fangyin Wei, a second-year graduate student in the computer science department and current president of ACSSPU. “Medical supplies, nationwide, are in short supply — so that’s why organizations and individuals all over the world are trying to do something to help.”