A timeline of COVID-19 updates

Photo courtesy of CDC

Editor’s Note: This article will be updated as new information becomes available.

Wednesday, March 18

Beginning earlier this week, several institutions within the University System of Georgia have cancelled or indefinitely postponed their commencements due to concerns about coronavirus. The University of Georgia, Georgia Southern and Georgia State University are among the colleges cancelling or moving graduation ceremonies. 

A statement released on the USG website on Wednesday night stated that “Students will still graduate consistent with academic standards, but the actual ceremonies will not be held as originally scheduled.” 

Tech has yet to release a decision or guidance on the May commencement ceremonies. At the time of writing, the FAQ site states that “a decision with respect to Spring Commencement will be communicated as soon as we can.”

Tuesday, March 17

Just after noon on March 17, President Angel Cabrera sent an email to all students and employees informing the community that a decision was finally made to move classes to an online format for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester in response to the coronavirus public health emergency.

Cabrera reiterated that students would receive an additional week off school after spring break, during which professors would be testing their distance learning platforms and capabilities. He stated that classes would formally restart on Monday, March 30.

This email followed communication earlier in the week from the University System of Georgia, which stated that all institutions would transition to online learning.

The communication from Cabrera concluded with several paragraphs encouraging students and staff to take care of themselves and to continue to learn, teach and do research during uncertain times.

“These are difficult times for everyone. Yet, every day I am encouraged by the dedication, the sense of responsibility and mutual support among members of our community,” Cabrera wrote. 

Monday, March 16

At 7:11p.m. an email was sent to the campus community from the Georgia Tech Corona Task Force relaying USG’s decision to transition all 26 USG Institutions, including Tech, to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester. 

“Students are not allowed to return to campus until they receive permission from their institution, which will be forthcoming soon,” the email stated. 

The email went on to say that on-campus housing will be closed, with “minimal exceptions for students unable to return home, or who cannot find housing elsewhere.” 

Students who left their belongings at Tech are not permitted to come back to campus to move out at this time. “Students will receive specific instructions from campus leaders regarding when they will be allowed to return to campus to retrieve their belongings from residence halls. Students must follow those instructions,” the email emphasized. 

The email also stated that USG would be “providing guidance” to institutions on how to handle housing, dining and other service refunds. 

Sunday, March 15 

Around 2:30 p.m., the Georgia Tech Corona Task Force sent an email to the campus community with another precautionary public health alert. The email notified students and staff of two more cases of potential campus exposures. 

“A person who works in administration at the Campus Recreation Center (CRC) has had contact with a family member who has tested positive for COVID-19,” the email stated. The email went on to note that while the CRC staff member works in an office and does not usually have direct contact with visitors in the building, the CRC will be closed from Sunday, March 15, to the morning of March 17 for deep cleaning.  

The other case was an intern in the Counseling Center, located in the Smithgall Student Service building (the Flag Building). The intern has contact with a friend who tested positive for COVID-19. The email emphasized that both individuals have not tested positive yet for COVID-19. 

As with the CRC, the Flag Building will undergo the same closures and deep cleaning process. “GT Counseling and CARE services will move to the second floor of the Stamps Health Center during this time,” the email stated. 

The email reiterated that the risk to the campus community was low. As of today there are 121 confirmed cases in Georgia, with 27 of them being in Fulton County. 

Saturday, March 14 Update

On the afternoon of March 14, the campus community received yet another update regarding coronavirus on campus. The email from the Coronavirus Task Force indicated that there was an individual who had attended the InVenture Prize Competition on March 11 that had been in contact with a family member that had tested positive for coronavirus. 

The email emphasized that the risk to the campus community was low, as the CDC does not recommend testing or precautionary measures after interacting with an asymptomatic individual with potential exposure to the virus. There are no identified cases of coronavirus on campus at the time. 

“While we understand the concerns and fear around COVID-19, it is extremely important to stay calm and maintain a close eye on your health and any symptoms that may arise,” stated the email. 

Saturday, March 14

Much of March 14 was spent attempting to handle the confusion that arose from conflicting messages. 

Cabrera took to Twitter yet again in order to attempt to answer questions, including what international students should do if they wished to return to their home countries if they felt unsafe in the United States and had already bought a plane ticket based on his previous instructions. 

“If you’ve moved out of your dorm room, don’t change plans at this point. Best thing right now: stay away from campus, hunker down, maintain social distance, wash your hands all the time. We will share updates with you directly should we need to return to campus on March 29,” said Cabrera in a Twitter message. 

At 10:59 a.m. on-campus residential students received an email from the Department of Housing. “Students who are currently on spring break are strongly encouraged not to return to campus. Students on campus are asked to depart campus and to remain away until March 29, 2020. At this time, students are not being asked to move out of their dorms for the remainder of the semester.” 

At 11:04 a.m. the campus community received an email from the Georgia Tech Coronavirus Task Force that laid out an updated FAQ, which can be found at http://health.gatech.edu/coronavirus. The contents of this FAQ greatly differed from the original FAQ sent out on Friday, March 13, which stated that the Institute would be transitioning to online learning for the rest of the spring semester. 

“Decisions on class resumption have yet to be made. Further guidance will be forthcoming. During the next two weeks we will test our business continuity plans and online instruction capabilities should we move to distance based instruction after March 30,” the new FAQ stated. 

Undergraduate students heard from their student body president Pooja Juvekar, who assured students that she was available to listen to and attempt to advocate for undergrads.

“I want to candidly express that this time has been uncertain and trying for many reasons. The lack of certainty has been stressful to say the least,” said Juvekar in her email. 

Juvekar also indicated that she and her colleagues had created a document containing resources for all students, which is hosted here

Resources included the creation of an airport shuttle, updated dining hall hours and points of contact for various questions. 

Friday, March 13 Update

President Ángel Cabrera sent out an email on the evening of March 13 at 8:49 p.m.  indicating that there had been some confusion — it remains to be seen if distance learning for the remainder of the semester is necessary. 

“I apologize for the confusion that my earlier guidance may have caused,” said Cabrera in his statement. 

Cabrera acknowledged that many students had already entirely moved out of their dorms, and some international students had already booked one-way flights home.

“International students: at this point we can not guarantee whether we will be moving to online on March 30. Please take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to return to your home country at this point,” Cabrera stated on his Twitter account. 

Cabrera received numerous angry responses to this and his other tweets. 

Not even an hour after Cabrera’s statement at 9:38 p.m., the Department of Housing sent another email to on-campus students clarifying where they were to put their keys if they wish to check out of their housing. “As a reminder if you choose to leave before March 31, your rent will be prorated based on the date you check out of your building for the rest of the term” the email reiterated. 

Friday, March 13

An email from the Coronavirus Task Force confirmed what had been seen in the FAQ previously —that campus would move to a distance learning format until the end of the semester. 

“As President Cabrera announced yesterday, we will move to distance learning on Monday, March 30, with a trial week beginning on Monday, March 23, and we will operate in a distance format through the end of the semester,” stated the email.

Throughout the day, some on campus residents began packing up their rooms and moving out. 

The email also confirmed that all Tech-sponsored events, including athletics, would be cancelled or rescheduled. 

Tech staff were told that they would receive additional confirmation from their supervisors regarding whether they would be required to work remotely or remain to support campus operations.

In late afternoon an official email was sent by the Department of Housing giving student instructions on moving out. On-campus residents were told that if they chose to move out before March 31, their rent and meal plan would be reimbursed with a prorated amount based on when they moved out. Students were given instructions on where to turn in their keys.

The email also stated that for students not choosing to move out, there was a possibility of being reassigned to a different building or room after March 31 in order to consolidate the on-campus population.

Thursday, March 12 Update

After a press conference from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp earlier in the day that indicated each college was allowed to make the choice on whether or not to transition to online classes, the campus community received yet another update. 

President Cabrera stated that “I can finally confirm that we will be moving all instruction to a distance format after spring break. We will use the week of March 23 as a trial and practice run, and will formally restart classes on March 30.”

Students were told to stay away from campus for as long as the end of March, but they were assured that if they did choose to stay, they would be accomodated. 

“These are indeed difficult and stressful times, but I have no doubt we will navigate them successfully with everyone’s participation and contribution,” concluded Cabrera’s email. “I have full confidence in the ability of this exceptional community to respond to this challenge.”

A FAQ page on health.gatech.edu/coronavirus indicated that online classes would begin formally on March 30 and continue until the end of the semester.

Thursday, March 12 

An update from President Cabrera later in the day on March 12 indicated that in response to guidance of the University System of Georgia, Tech would remain open for face-to-face instruction but would prepare for a possible move to online instruction in the coming days. The president gave indications of the areas in which preparation was taking place, including academic, administrative and research concerns.

“While no decision has been made at this point, I advise all students heading out for spring break to also prepare for the possibility that instruction could move to distance learning,” said Cabrera.

The email included a copy of the message that Cabrera had received from USG. 

An email sent from the Coronavirus Task Force indicated that all Spring 2020 international programs had been cancelled, including study abroad and exchange programs and international internships. 

Wednesday, March 11

The Coronavirus Task Force again reached out to the campus community in order to deliver guidance from Dr. Benjamin Holton, senior director of Stamps Health Services. Holton covered information from the CDC about the disease, symptom identification and where to find help if necessary.

The video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY7U32c6C70&feature=emb_title

Monday, March 9

The campus community received an email on behalf of Georgia Tech that gave several warnings in advance of spring break, which was to take place the following week. 

Students were reminded of the restrictions regarding travel to countries with a Level 3 designation that required self-isolation, as well as the prohibition of Institute-related travel to these countries.

Thursday, March 5

An email from the Coronavirus Task Force was sent to the campus community on March 5 to inform about the steps the task force had already taken as well as guidance on how to prevent illness on campus. The task force stated that there were no changes to class schedules or work expectations other than in the case of illness. Large scale campus events would increase the health and cleaning protocols before and after all events.

In addition, the task force indicated that if students chose to travel to countries with a CDC designation of Level 3, which discourages nonessential travel, they would be required to notify the Institute and self-quarantine for 14 days following their return. 

Tuesday, March 3

President Cabrera sent an email on the afternoon of March 3 that informed the campus community of the formation of a coronavirus task force in response to the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the United States. Cabrera stated that his chief of staff, Frank Neville, was asked to be the chair of the group. 

The communication also reminded students and faculty that all Institute related travel had previously been cancelled. It indicated the steps that the Institute had already taken prior to creating the task force, such as inventorying supplies and conversing with the University System of Georgia. Cabrera informed students that several spring and summer programs as well as spring break trips had already been cancelled.