COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina is canceling classes next week and will hold classes online only for the following two weeks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Students at the state's largest college are being encouraged to stay home until in-person classes resume the week of April 6, USC President Bob Caslen announced Wednesday. Dorms and food service will be available for students who want to stay on the Columbia campus.
USC is on spring break this week. The extra week off will give faculty time to switch to online instruction.
"Gamecocks, your health and safety are our No. 1 priority," Caslen tweeted. "This unprecedented public health challenge demands that all of us do our part for the public good. Let's rise to the occasion in the interest of our community."
USC's decision applies to its main Columbia campus only. The school's seven other campuses make their own announcements.
USC Upstate, the largest of the system's satellite campuses, is holding classes next week, but USC's other four-year campuses, Aiken and Beaufort, are canceling in-person classes next week. USC's four two-year colleges are following similar schedule as the Columbia campus, university spokesman Jeff Stensland said.
Several other large state colleges across the country have temporarily halted in-person classes as COVID-19 has spread across the country, including Ohio State University, Indiana University and West Virginia University.
USC is the first major college in South Carolina to switch to online-only classes.
Clemson University is considering the move, and College of Charleston will test online classes Thursday. Coastal Carolina University added another week to spring break this week, according to a message sent to students Wednesday.
No positive cases of coronavirus have been reported on S.C. college campuses. A test for a non-student at Clemson came back negative, the school said Wednesday.
Ten South Carolinians have been struck with the coronavirus, including seven in Camden. Two of the cases have been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta; the other eight await official confirmation.
As part of the precautions, Gamecock sports events will be held without fans until the end of the month after the Southeastern Conference announced a new policy Wednesday. And the NCAA has decided to only allow family to attend its basketball tournaments, including the expected first two rounds of women's basketball at Colonial Life Arena starting March 20 or 21.
Caslen said he worked with a university coronavirus taskforce and communicated with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the CDC in making the decision to change classes.
Caslen also worked with USC faculty leadership in finalizing the plans after word about extending spring break was first shared late Tuesday without their input.
"This is the best plan we can put forward with what we know now," USC Faculty Senate Chairman Mark Cooper said.
Caslen called discouraging 32,000 students from returning to the Columbia campus the "best measured approach to prevent a high risk situation and is an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus."
"Because of the efficient way (coronavirus) spreads, it demands of us, all of us in the university community a commitment to the public good like we have rarely been asked to observe," Caslen wrote to the campus community. "In this spirit, we humbly seek a devotion by everyone involved to rise to this occasion by practicing a flexibility, a sensitivity, and a creativity with how we all approach our instruction and go about our work serving students and each other."