UAA students will resume the rest of the spring semester entirely online due to the threat of spreading COVID-19. This announcement was issued by UA President Jim Johnsen, Chancellor Sandeen and is also Alaska policy. Any communication between professors and students is limited to video conferences, emails and phone calls.
Groups of 10 or more people are prohibited from meeting on the UAA campus, meaning that student clubs and organizations will face challenges convening for the rest of the semester. Students and employees are also prohibited from returning to campus for 14 days after traveling outside of Alaska and are expected to self-quarantine at home during that time.
Masa Abaza is a natural science major at UAA and the president of the UAA Pre-Med Club. She said that transitioning online at this time is unexpected, and will cause some students difficulty.
“I think many students who have never done an online class before will be impacted most. It is quite a transition to have to do, and not to mention having to do so in the middle of the semester when most students are already settled in their schedules,” Abaza said.
Tina Ndour, a sophomore majoring in business administration for management information systems, is already taking two online classes and says she is not too worried about adapting to the new format. However, Ndour is concerned about how some classes will reformat and how professors will handle such a sudden change in the course structure.
“One of my professors still has not emailed me about how we would be moving forward. The class is a presentation class, so I am not sure how we would be doing it online. I’m just waiting for my professor for now,” Ndour said.
Even though this online transition is difficult for students, Abaza is confident that there are solutions. She is impressed with the alternative methods professors have found for students to still learn effectively. She also sees a few positives of online learning.
“My physics professor sent an email saying we’ll have virtual labs to do. This new online schedule also allows me to be more flexible with my schoolwork and simply do homework and lectures whenever convenient for me. As a student who maintains a job and volunteering, this is very beneficial,” Abaza said.
Abaza thinks that the steps that UAA is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are a necessity to keep the community safe.
“Although the death rate is relatively low, the fast transmission of this virus is very worrisome. We must take all necessary precautions to prevent overwhelming our hospital systems. Especially here in Alaska, where our population is far too large for the [number] of hospital beds we have available here,” Abaza said.
Anchorage hospitals, including Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital, have followed the state health department’s recommendation that elective surgeries be canceled or postponed to make room for potential COVID-19 patients. Alaska chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink expects that hospitals will be stressed in the coming weeks in an ADN article from March 15.
“It is very likely that the U.S. health care infrastructure and resources, particularly as it relates to care of the most critically ill patients, are likely to be strained over the coming weeks,” Dr. Zink said.
Alaska has 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 22. Although uncertainty can take hold in a time like this, Abaza believes that Alaskans should not give up hope, but also has concerns as to how officials are handling this pandemic.
“As a student and resident of Alaska, I like to generally have a positive outlook. However, I feel that our senators and state representatives need to do a better job of taking care of our residents during such a difficult and sudden situation. Alaskans need all the federal help we can get, especially since we are only at the beginning of this crisis,” Abaza said.
Information Technology Services at UAA is working to create wireless hotspots for students who need them in designated sites on and off-campus. UAA also plans to pay for student and employee internet services, using GCI, ACS or MTA, according to an official email from UA President Jim Johnsen on March 20.
Students can sign up for text alerts concerning UAA and COVID-19 by texting UACOVID19 to 22678. Clubs and organizations can continue to meet via free video conferencing programs, such as Zoom, Hangouts, Skype or Meet. More information on how to navigate video conference technology can be found at the UAA Coronavirus Resources page on the UA website.