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KINGSTON, R.I. – The University of Rhode Island switched to virtual learning for the remainder of the fall semester on Monday, coming just shy of its goal to hold in-person classes until the Thanksgiving break.

URI spokesman Dave Lavallee said the university would continue classes online until Dec. 14. Exams, administered online, will take place Dec. 16-18 and Dec. 21-22.

Then after winter break, students will return to the campus starting Jan. 10, with spring semester classes set to begin Jan. 25.

“Our plan is to have in-person learning when we return in the spring,” Lavallee said.

The decision to move to all-online classes three days earlier than scheduled came after URI officials looked at the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island and across the country, Lavallee said.

The university has allowed some on-campus activity to continue, including clinical labs for undergraduate and graduate nursing, final practical exams for physical therapy and music studio recitals, rehearsal and lab.  

“We understand that this change on short notice may pose some challenges to students, staff, and faculty, but we believe it is the most prudent option to safeguard our community and reduce the potential for transmission over the weekend and next week,” URI said in a statement. “Our goal is to maximize the likelihood that our students return home safely and that faculty and staff have a healthy and well-deserved Thanksgiving holiday.”

URI has managed to hold any potential large outbreaks of COVID-19 at bay since students returned in September.

The school’s online COVID tracker shows that from Nov. 16-22, 8,724 tests were administered, with 124 positive tests, for a positive test rate of 1.42 percent.

Since the start of the pandemic, URI has given 54,041 tests and had 738 positive cases, a rate of 1.37 percent, according to the tracker data.

As of Nov. 22, 322 people were in isolation or quarantine, including 105 students in university isolation or quarantine areas, using 18% of available beds. The data is for all URI campuses.

With students gearing up to return home for Thanksgiving, the university hit its second-highest single-day testing total on Nov. 20, with 2,027 tests administered. On Oct. 8, URI gave 2,205 COVID-19 tests.

URI President David M. Dooley said the university had achieved its goals of studying, working and researching together until the Thanksgiving break.

“The extraordinary efforts of our students, faculty and staff are truly unprecedented,” Dooley said. “And I’m personally deeply grateful to everyone for their willingness to adapt as we responded to the challenges presented by the pandemic during this semester.”

Dooley said the university would care for a number of students who will remain on campus during the holidays. He urged students to regularly check for updates about preparations for the spring semester.

“Mandatory COVID-19 testing will continue throughout the spring semester, and it has been rewarding to observe the compliance of our community with the testing protocols,” he said.

Several vaccine candidates are in the final stages of approval, and could be ready for distribution as early as December. Rhode Island was also chosen as a pilot state to test vaccine distribution.

“URI will be working to identify ways our community can help in these efforts and ensure our community members have access to the vaccines as they become available,” Dooley said.

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