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Clemson to shut down in-person classes for the semester at Thanksgiving

GREENVILLE — In a move many anticipated as coronavirus continues its spread across South Carolina, Clemson University announced Thursday that students would not return to campus for the fall semester after the Thanksgiving break.

The break begins Nov. 25. When the final two weeks of classes for the semester resume on Nov. 30, they will be all online, according to an email from University Provost Bob Jones. Students will submit their final exams online as well.

The announcement came in an email to all students and employees at 3 p.m. 

Clemson University's COVID-19 testing strategy, Littlejohn Coliseum

Clemson University students report early Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, for their mandatory weekly coronavirus tests. Anna B. Mitchell/Staff

The decision was largely driven by the need to isolate hundreds of students infected with the virus, or quarantine those exposed to it through close contact with someone who has been infected.

Bringing students back after Thanksgiving, Jones wrote, could result in having to quarantine some of them well into the Christmas break.

"The health strategy team projects the need to quarantine or isolate at least 200 students in the first week following the Thanksgiving break should students return to campus from the holiday," Jones wrote. "Additionally, students would continue to need to be tested for COVID-19 upon their return through the end of final examination period on Dec. 11, which could result in some students being quarantined or isolated well into the year-end holiday break should they become infected or exposed to the virus."

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Closing campus for what will be more than a month will also give staff and faculty more time to prepare "for a more normal Spring semester with increased in-person teaching and activities," Jones wrote.

According to Clemson's COVID-19 dashboard, 317 students were in isolation or quarantine on campus as of Tuesday. Of those, 175 were able to stay in their own rooms; others had to be provided with special quarantine quarters. 

A Post and Courier story earlier this week found that Clemson likely leads the nation at this point for students it knows have been infected with the virus since tracking started in June. That number on Thursday stood at 4,399.

Clemson has an aggressive testing strategy, with all students and staff tested before classes resumed on campus in September. Most students have been tested at least once or twice since then, more if they live on campus. Other campuses, including the University of South Carolina, test students on a voluntary basis. 

USC made the decision at the beginning of the fall semester not to reopen campus after the Thanksgiving break. 

Andy Shain contributed to this report.

Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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