U of T cancels in-person classes, switches to online and other means, due to COVID-19 outbreak

photo the university's crest, carved in stone

(Note: This story was updated March 17, 2020 with new information regarding the status of libraries, residences, staff and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario.)

The University of Toronto will cancel all in-person undergraduate courses, as well as research-stream masters and doctoral courses, across its three campuses from March 16 to April 3 in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada and around the globe.

In an effort to foster a degree of “social distancing” and protect the health of the university community, U of T President Meric Gertler said Friday that the university intends to deliver teaching instruction by other means during this period, which may include the use of existing online platforms.

While all three campuses will remain open, many facilities will be shut down and all buildings will closed to the general public beginning at midnight March 17. Robarts Library and libraries at U of T Mississauga and U of T Scarborough will remain open to members of the U of T community with limited staff and services.  

Residences will continue to be provided for students who are unable to return home. Staff who can work from home are being encouraged to do so.

“The situation is now accelerating very rapidly,” President Gertler said in a letter to the U of T community on March 13. “One of the key factors in these decisions is the need to foster a degree of ‘social distancing,’ as recommended by public health authorities.

“On that front, our goal is to help interrupt the chain of transmission in the wider community, thereby protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring that our health-care system will not become overburdened.”

With regards to professional programs – each of which has unique circumstances and accreditation requirements – President Gertler said consultations are ongoing to determine an appropriate course of action. Decisions are being made by deans and more information on course instruction will be posted as it becomes available.

President Gertler noted that the university has been monitoring developments surrounding the novel coronavirus closely since early January and taking necessary actions as recommended by public health officials. 

U of T previously cancelled all university-sponsored learning programs abroad, advised against non-essential travel and recommended the cancellation and postponement of all discretionary events. It also sent a memo to students, faculty and staff on all three campuses that provided updates on contingency planning and reiterated earlier advice that people who feel sick should stay home.

U of T’s decision to halt in-person courses comes after the World Health Organization last week officially declared the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus a “pandemic,” the first time it has issued such a declaration since the outbreak of H1N1 in 2009. 

“We are not at the mercy of this virus,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom on March 9. “All countries must aim to stop transmission and spread of COVID-19, whether they face no cases, sporadic cases, clusters or community transmission.”

Ontario's public schools were ordered to shut down for two weeks after the March Break to help combat the spread of the illness. The shutdown affects 4,800 schools and two million students in the province. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 180 confirmed cases in the province, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health’s website

In his letter, President Gertler expressed gratitude for U of T’s clinicians and researchers “who are making crucial contributions to our collective efforts to find solutions on the local, provincial and international level,” and thanked U of T students, faculty and staff for their measured response to the unfolding crisis.

“We appreciate that the global COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly worrisome, and that the changes I’ve just announced will require very significant adjustments on everyone’s part,” he said. 

“But, based on the strength of our bonds as a community and the good will that characterizes its members, we are confident that we will meet this challenge successfully.”

More information on COVID-19 – including an FAQ for students, faculty and staff – can be found on U of T’s coronavirus information page.


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