Gallaudet University pivots to virtual classes as covid cases rise

Gallaudet University moved classes and exams online for the remainder of the semester, an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus after a spike in cases, school officials announced.

Classes switched to virtual format Thursday morning, and most students were encouraged to move out of dorms this weekend. Final exams, which will also be held remotely, end May 7.

Because of the increased transmissibility of the BA.2 variant, N95 or KN95 masks are now required on campus and cloth or surgical masks will no longer be allowed, school leaders wrote in a message to the campus community. Weekly testing is still required.

The hope is to be able to hold commencement in person as planned on May 13, Robert Weinstock, a spokesman for the school, said in an email. It will be Gallaudet’s first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019. Apple chief executive Tim Cook and actress Lauren Ridloff are expected to address the graduates.

Earlier this month, Howard University moved many of its classes online, and some other Washington-area schools reinstated mask mandates as coronavirus cases increased on campuses and in the city.

At Gallaudet, the positivity rate on campus jumped from less than 0.5 percent to 2.6 percent in just two weeks, from April 11 to Wednesday, school officials told the campus community Wednesday.

“The number of cases has been increasing rapidly and we have consistently seen a doubling of cases each week and expect to continue to see an increase throughout this week,” school leaders wrote, an increase they attributed partially to outbreaks in classrooms and at social events.

“We recognize the intense commitment to our first academic year back on campus after being remote,” wrote school leaders Jeff Lewis, the interim provost; Travis Imel, dean of student affairs; and Dom Lacy, the chief operating officer. “We could not have made it this far without your dedication to weekly testing, wearing masks, and keeping the community safe despite the emergence of new variants.”

As they near the end of the year, they wrote, “we will finish strong.”