With the number of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. now more than 1,000, Victoria higher education institutions are watching its spread and preparing to teach remotely.

“If it becomes necessary to close campus, we have a plan in place to transition all of our classes to online delivery,” said Lauren Emerson, communications manager for the University of Houston-Victoria. “Classes will not be canceled, just moved online.”

“Victoria College’s upcoming events remain scheduled as planned,” said Darin Kazmir, Victoria College marketing and communications director. “We continue to monitor the situation and remain in contact with public health officials.”

So far, neither institution has plans to cancel events or classes.

Across Texas, other higher education institutions were taking precautions. The University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas Christian University decided to extend their spring breaks. The University of Houston canceled classes for the week of March 16, and Trinity University has decided to transition to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester. Dr. John McNeil, Victoria County’s public health authority, said he is looking to whether the virus is spreading among county residents in deciding whether to recommend increased prevention and protection measures to Victoria departments, colleges, school districts and other organizations.

On Wednesday, World Health Organization officials declared the disease a pandemic, which is defined as a new disease for which there is no immunity but has spread internationally.

At Victoria College, classes will continue in person, as scheduled, but if a threat of the virus happens, then administrators have worked out a solution and contingency plans are in place, Kazmir said.

If the campus were to close, classes would continue online.

College administrators urge students and faculty to use caution when traveling for spring break, and they recommend following CDC guidelines.

Nursing students will continue to meet in class and attend their clinical activities as normal, Kazmir said.

“Students who work at one of the affiliated clinical sites follow strict clinical guidelines and will take any additional precautions set in place by our clinical partners,” Kazmir said.

As of Wednesday, no one had tested positive for the virus or its resulting disease, COVID-19.

Victoria Independent School District students are scheduled to leave for spring break early on with teacher work days planned Thursday and Friday, said Shawna Currie, spokeswoman for the district.

During the break, the district will clean every campus and school bus to prevent potentially spreading the virus.

Currie said district officials are considering remote teaching options for when students return.

“We are looking into what capabilities we would have for remote learning in the event schools would have to close for an extended period of time,” she said, adding they are also considering options for students who lack internet access.

District officials are also advising students to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel guide.

Although no school-related events have yet been canceled, Currie said district officials are looking to their calendars and considering which events might be.

Officials with school districts in Hallettsville and Calhoun County are following a similar wait-and-see approach.

“We do have a plan,” said Calhoun County Superintendent Larry Nichols.

At that district, officials have ordered additional hand sanitizer stations, made available more thermometers and considered their options.

If the state does recommend school closings, Nichols said, middle- and high-school students could learn from home through their district-issued laptops, which are installed with the remote learning software Google Classroom. Younger children would be able to study away from the classroom with workbooks and take-home learning packets, he said.

In Hallettsville, district officials are monitoring the spread of the virus but have not yet made specific changes.

“I want to assure you that our school district is keeping track of this situation through proven and trustworthy sources,” reads a Feb. 28 letter to parents from Hallettsville Superintendent Jo Ann Bludea. “These health officials believe the risk to our school community is low at this time.”

Both districts also are practicing increased cleaning on campus, which was begun months earlier with the outbreak of the flu.

With the spread of the new coronavirus not yet detected between Crossroads community members, officials should focus on preventing the disease’s arrival, McNeil said.

The University of Houston system restricted travel to all countries the CDC had issued as a Level 3 travel threat to avoid the spread of coronavirus across its four institutions. The restriction was issued March 2.

Those countries currently include China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.

UHV canceled its planned Study Abroad trip to China this summer in light of the virus, and students will be refunded for their trip, according to a UHV coronavirus alert.

Early this week, university officials removed self-serve options in its dining facilities, which will now be served by dining staff, according to the alert.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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