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JMU shifting to online classes, asking students to leave campus after 500 coronavirus cases
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JMU shifting to online classes, asking students to leave campus after 500 coronavirus cases

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JMU Campus

James Madison University campus in Harrisonburg.

After reporting more than 500 active coronavirus cases less than a week after in-person classes started, James Madison University on Tuesday announced it would shift to primarily online courses and ask students to leave campus by Sept. 7.

“After consultation with the Virginia Department of Health, James Madison University will transition to primarily online learning, with some hybrid instruction for accreditation and licensure requirements, graduate research, and specialized upper-class courses requiring equipment and space, through the month of September,” University president Jonathan R. Alger said in a message on the school’s website Tuesday evening. “Over the next month, university officials will carefully monitor health trends and other developments, and will be in touch with the campus community by Sept. 25 regarding the possibility of returning to in-person instruction on or after October 5.”

The school becomes the first in the state to retreat from in-person classes after trying them to start the semester, though some licensure, graduate and upper-level course work will continue to meet through the end of the month.

The number of total positive cases skyrocketed after students moved in Aug 21 and classes began Aug 26. The day before classes began, the university released a publicly available COVID-19 dashboard reporting 23 self-reported student cases and six faculty.

On Tuesday, the school reported 513 active cases and 528 total, most of any college in the state. Across Virginia, colleges had reported more than 1,400 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday.

The school, which has an enrollment of 19,943 undergraduate students, reported that 64 of its 143 isolation beds were being used.

“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’s announcement said. “Protecting the health of our Harrisonburg and Rockingham County community—including students, faculty, staff—is our top priority, and we need to act swiftly to stop the spread as best we can.”

A daily case count shows that three of the highest daily positive student test totals through the school’s health center were recorded since Friday—37 on Friday, 36 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday. The school reported highest daily rise in self-reported student cases on Tuesday: 120.

JMU didn’t require students to be screened for COVID-19 before returning to campus like some schools in the state.

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