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Grinnell College cancels in-person classes, postpones campus arrivals as national COVID cases surge


In response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Iowa and around the country, Grinnell College has decided to delay the arrival of students previously invited to live on campus for Fall Term 1 (F1), which extends from Aug. 24 through Oct. 14.

Classes for F1 will be taught online and only students “in especially vulnerable and highly stressed situations” will be allowed to live on campus, according to an email sent by President Anne Harris this morning.

The College’s initial plan was to invite roughly 500 students to live on campus in a low-residency model that would meet the public health precautions needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Aside from current students granted special permission to live on campus through a petition process which closed earlier this month, the majority of those invited to live on campus were first-year and transfer students.

In their original email announcing the 2020-21 plan on June 12, then-Dean Anne Harris and then-President Raynard Kington noted that all projected dates were tentative and dependent on the status of the pandemic. Now, the uptick in coronavirus cases in Iowa, which has the second highest infection rate per capita in the Midwest, as well as the growing number of cases detected in those between the ages of 18 and 40 nationally, has caused the College administration to reassess this plan.

As of July 20, Iowa has seen almost 40,000 cases of COVID-19 and 797 deaths, according to data compiled by The New York Times. In Poweshiek County, 114 cases of COVID-19 and eight COVID-19-related deaths have been documented.

Harris’ email said that the College will reevaluate who will be invited to campus for subsequent terms. She affirmed that despite the circumstances, the College still intends “to provide every student an opportunity to be on campus this year,” and will be releasing an updated residency plan for the year by July 27.

This news came as a shock to incoming first-year students whose preparations to move into their dorms in Grinnell next month must now be put on hold.

Ariana Furlong ’24 had already packed up most of her belongings in anticipation of her move-in day on August 18. Now, she doesn’t know when she can expect to move out of her home in Massachusetts.

“The reaction was, ‘What the fuck?’ That’s the only phrase I can think of that can properly encapsulate what we’re all feeling,” said Furlong. “We were all just shocked and trying to process what’s going on. We have all just been collectively grieving.”

Furlong found out about the College’s change of plans via a group chat with her future tutorial classmates that was formed earlier this week. The College just recently announced first year tutorial cohorts. Now, Furlong and her peers have gone from discussing how excited they were to meet each other in person to discussing the implications of the new plan.

Furlong, who had a negative experience with distance learning in her last months of high school, is now considering deferring her enrollment to the spring term and continuing her current job at a restaurant near her home.

“I don’t really see the point in doing online classes,” said Furlong. “I’m just going to try and do what will be best for me academically and mentally so I don’t end up falling into a slump, because I’m going to be home for a few months.”

Mohammad Igbaria ’24, from Upland, California, had been planning to drive to Grinnell with his family in time for his arrival date on August 17.

“We’ve just been buying all the stuff we need to and getting the hotel reservations for on the way, so all of that had to be scrapped. We understand why it’s happening, it just still sucks,” said Igbaria. “I didn’t know what to expect, because I knew cases were surging but didn’t know what Grinnell’s reaction would be.”

Igbaria said many of the other first-years he’s been communicating with are now considering deferring to the spring semester. He is going to continue to stay enrolled, though, and take online classes for his first semester.

“I’ll get through college one way or another. I mean, it’s not ideal, but it’s the best they can do in the circumstances, so we gotta adapt.” said Igbaria.

The College will be holding two WebEx events later this week to discuss the updated plan further and answer questions and concerns. A meeting focusing on on-campus living will be held at 3:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday, July 23 and another session on the remote Grinnell experience will take place later that evening at 5:00 p.m. CDT.

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