McMaster and Mohawk suspend all in-person classes and exams in response to COVID-19

McMaster is suspending in-person classes as of the end of the day Friday. All in-person exams are also cancelled.

'This is a stressful time for everyone. And these are difficult decisions:' David Farrar

McMaster University is cancelling all in-person classes and exams as of the end of the day Friday.

McMaster University and Mohawk College have suspended all in-person classes as of the end of the day Friday in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

All in-person exams at both schools are also cancelled.

Mohawk is shutting down all of its campuses to both students and the community starting March 14. The college says it's encouraging students who live on residence to return home if possible.

Classes at the college are set to restart online or through other delivery methods starting March 23.

Statements from both Mohawk and McMaster said instructors will let students know how the rest of their course work will be carried out and their grades evaluated.

"While the university has taken many measures to prepare and keep our community informed as the pandemic has unfolded, it is now time to take a more significant decision to suspend classes at McMaster," wrote president David Farrar in a letter to students.

"This is a stressful time for everyone. And these are difficult decisions."

The spread of COVID-19 and its arrival in Hamilton have pushed the university and other area organizations into "uncharted territory," Farrar added, saying as of Friday, the risk of contracting the virus remains low.

Public health officials announced the city's first case of COVID-19 — a 52-year-old man who had travelled to New York City — on Thursday. 

Dr. Bart Harvey and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger provided an updated on the city's first confirmed case of COVID-19 Thursday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A radiation oncologist, who works at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, but lives in Burlington, has also tested positive for the new coronavirus. Both of those people, along with family members and colleagues they came into contact with are currently in self-isolation.

A total of 99 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Hamilton as of 9 a.m. Friday. Besides the positive case, 76 tests have come back negative and 22 others are still awaiting their results.

McMaster is focused on its students faculty and staff, wrote Farrar.

All in-person classes for both undergraduate and graduate students will be halted at the end of the day on March 13 and no in-person exams will be held at the end of the term, according to the letter.

McMaster students still have access to residences

"Ensuring students finish their year, that those in their final year are able to graduate and reducing the stress students are under must be of paramount importance," wrote Farrar.

The president said McMaster knows its decision will create a challenge for instructors, but notes "I am confident that in these extraordinary times, extraordinary solutions will be found and the university will provide the support needed to help ensure that happens."

But even before the university cancelled classes Nathan Todd, president of CUPE 3906, which represents teaching assistants, sessional instructors and postdocs, told CBC he was wondering how the school would manage online courses and what that would mean for union members. 

"Our concern is what [online courses are] going to look like, what's that going to mean?" he explained. "That's going to be extra work [so] making sure that's going to be compensated, that people are trained up on how to do it and how that's going to work."

'I'm surprised that they waited so long'

While staff work to switch over to online classes and other solutions, the rest of the university will remain open, said Farrar.

That means the number of people on campus will be lower, but students will still have access to their residences, libraries and research labs.

Food services and university offices will also stay open.

"I'm surprised that they waited so long, frankly. Right when I started to see the other schools closing, it seemed like the right decision to be going in," third-year nursing student Alex Maida said Friday, adding he feels it was "unacceptable" he and his classmates had to attend school today.

As soon as classes were cancelled, Maida left campus and headed directly to Costco to "get the essentials." 

"I'm not one to panic, but it's just more of a precaution. It sucks to feed into all the worry and anxiety but it's what's being done unfortunately," Maida said. 

One of the main concerns for him and his fellow nursing students is what will happen to their hospital placements, which are required for graduation. 

"As of right now we honestly have no idea what's going on," Maida said. "The expectation is that we will not be going because all of our other classes are going to be shifted online but the placement is one that cannot be shifted online."

University jumps from cancelling events to classes

News of the cancellations came less than 24 hours after McMaster cancelled all discretionary events strongly encouraging everyone at the university not to travel outside of Canada.

Several students said that wasn't good enough, calling for the school to close its doors for the safety of all community members.

"It just feels like [they're] not valuing the lives of those [immunocompromised] folks," said Brittany Allan, a fourth-year social work student who runs peer-support centre Maccess for students with disabilities. 

In his letter Farrar said It's important for students to stay informed, pointing to the university's Daily News page and dedicated COVID-19 website.

"It is important that students, faculty and staff continue to share information and work together as the situation around COVID-19 continues to develop at an increasingly fast pace," he wrote, adding it's also crucial the university remain safe and inclusive.

"I want to thank all of you – staff, students and faculty – for your commitment, your patience and your determination to strengthen the university as together we face the challenges before us."

with files from Jennifer La Grassa