Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Salisbury University’s original shutdown of campus operations due to rising concerns over the spread of coronavirus across the nation.
The university’s President’s Office sent an email to the entire campus community on March 10 announcing the cancellation of classes for March 12-13 leading up to spring break over the following week, citing guidance from the University System of Maryland.
SU students were urged to go home and remain off campus until at least April 4, with instruction required to be given in a virtual format, if possible, from March 23 until April 3.
Though zero cases of the virus had yet to be reported on the Eastern Shore, students were also advised to bring home all essential belongings from their dorms should a longer shutdown arise.
As COVID-19 cases continued to climb across the state in the following days, Gov. Larry Hogan took increasing measures to tighten Maryland’s restrictions on travel and public gatherings, culminating in a complete stay-at-home order for Marylanders.
SU’s President Office announced on March 19 that the remainder of the spring semester would be completed virtually, and that the campus would remain closed to the public indefinitely. That reverse in course came before the university could even return to instruction — albeit temporarily online — from spring break.
President Charles Wight sympathized with the campus community when making the announcement as fear and uncertainty continued to spread.
“The past two weeks have been tremendously difficult for all of us as we try to maintain our operations and do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Wight said via the email. “I regret having to ask [the campus community] to make additional sacrifices, yet this is the best way for us to help ensure not only the safety of our students, faculty and staff, but of the surrounding community, our state and our nation.”
The spring semester’s commencement ceremony and sports competitions were also eliminated by the move to fully virtual operations.
SU eventually returned in the fall to a combination of in-person, online and hybrid-formatted instruction, permitting students to return to the campus for the first time since students retrieved items from their dorms shortly after the spring shutdown began.
After navigating a spike in coronavirus cases in early September, the university managed to survive the entire fall semester with in-person operations, a feat no other University of Maryland institution was able to accomplish.
SU continued with the mix of in-person, online and hybrid-formatted instruction this spring, with an increase of in-person and hybrid courses offered. The university has also seen the return of sporting events this semester, even allowing limited spectators.
Wight has attributed SU’s success in remaining open to the university’s constantly evolving COVID-19 testing policies, as well as university members’ adherence to social distancing, frequent handwashing and mask-wearing.
“Statistically, SU is one of the safest places in the state,” Wight said during a recent weekly COVID-19 briefing. “Our low positivity rate is proof that, when observed regularly and consistently, [these precautions] can make a huge difference.”
SU has identified a total of 695 positive cases of COVID-19 over nearly 50,000 administered tests since December, according to the university’s coronavirus dashboard. The campus has maintained a positivity rate at or below 2% since late September.
The university recently announced it expects a return to nearly fully in-person operations and instruction for the upcoming fall semester, provided that vaccines become available for nearly all Americans before August.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Ben Lausch.