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Montana State University is urging all students to go home for the rest of the spring semester, telling students not to return to Bozeman after this week’s spring break and canceling all in-person classes in an effort to combat spread of the new coronavirus.

MSU President Waded Cruzado issued a statement late Wednesday, saying these actions were being taken after receiving guidance from the commissioner of higher education’s office, responding to the severity of the outbreak and to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

“If you have another housing option, please do not return to campus after spring break,” Cruzado wrote.

Those living on campus were asked to consider finding alternative housing.

MSU had earlier called for moving most classes from in-person to online instruction, and described students’ decisions to return to campus after spring break as voluntary.

But the new directive takes a stronger stand, saying that students should not return to their campuses or campus communities after the break. And from now until May, “There will be no classroom instruction.”

“We ask that all students take this request very seriously,” Cruzado wrote. “The spread of the virus will only become more severe in coming weeks if we are not able to stop the spread now.

“While you may feel perfectly fine, you may be a carrier,” she added. “Each of us has a responsibility to prevent others from getting very sick.”

The president’s announcement is likely to be welcome news for those Bozeman residents who have been writing messages on Facebook and other social media, worrying that if thousands of students were to return this weekend from spring break, it could mean an influx of the virus.

MSU’s courses and labs will be taught over the internet or other remote means until the end of the semester. A few exceptions will be made where learning can only be done hands-on, such as welding and off-campus nursing clinical instruction. Students and faculty in those cases are being reminded to use social distancing — staying 6 feet away from others — and to clean surfaces where the virus may fall or be touched by others.

Students were asked not to return to the dorms to retrieve belongings. MSU’s Residence Life office planned to contact students about how they could get essential items.

There was no news about whether graduation would go forward on May 9.

That decision will be made in coordination with the commissioner of higher education’s office for the statewide university system, and shared with the public as soon as the decision is made, said Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesman.

The vast majority of comments from students and parents have been supportive, Ellig said.

“Understandably, some are concerned and confused,” Ellig wrote in an email. “We are proud of our faculty and staff, who are doing everything within their power and abilities to support our students, help them to complete their course work for this semester and, in some cases, finish their academic programs and start a new phase in their lives.

“The health and safety of our MSU community is our number one concern and that has led the entire university system to take some extraordinary actions,” he added.

All MSU fitness facilities are closed. All athletics practice and strength facilities are closed. The Renne Library is closed, though still available online. The Strand Union Building’s hours are now limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I want for you to think that this is a challenge that we can accept and conquer together,” Cruzado wrote. “As Bobcats, I am counting on you.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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