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U. confirms inadvertently-released COVID-19 information was ‘under development,’ not finalized

<h6>Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Late Sunday night into Monday morning, a University web page addressing the COVID-19 outbreak sparked confusion across campus. A University spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Princetonian that the information on this page was revealed inadvertently.

“We have been developing a new website to keep the University community informed on policies, guidance, and best practices to ensure everyone’s health and safety during this evolving situation,” Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote in a 1:08 a.m. statement to the ‘Prince.’

“Policy information under development was inadvertently made viewable to the public,” he added. “We will share any and all new policies and guidance as soon as they are finalized.”

The current iteration of the website — as of 2 a.m. — does not recommend the cancellation of any events.

After 11:30 p.m., a webpage on the University domain titled “COVID-19: Coronavirus Information” was updated to indicate that “undergraduate and graduate lectures and seminars” would “move to an online format” beginning March 23 and extending until April 5, “and possibly beyond.” The page also recommended “social distancing” measures, including postponing or canceling events with over 100 people and limiting attendance at athletic events to less than one-third of the venues’ official capacities.

The posted information stated that the University “prohibited” University-sponsored international travel and “urge[d] extreme caution and judgement for personal domestic travel.” It also stated that “University-sponsored domestic air travel is prohibited, unless absolutely necessary.”

Though this briefly-active page mentioned online classes, it did not recommend any alterations to the midterm exam schedule.

“Classes and midterms are scheduled as normal the week of March 9, with social distancing protocols in place,” it read.

Additionally, this iteration of the site recommended that students requiring self-isolation “go home if they can travel safely,” and would relocate individuals unable to return home to “a safe place for quarantine or isolation on or near campus and provide support.”

As of 2 a.m., the webpage had been dramatically altered. It currently reads as follows:  

“Classes are being held as usual, and the University has not recommended that events be cancelled. We continue to closely monitor this evolving global health situation and make decisions based on the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities.”

As opposed to the previously noted prohibition on travel, the site now “strongly encourage[s]” students, faculty, and staff to postpone or cancel international travel.

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As of 2 a.m., the site does not mention “social distancing” or any prevention measures aside from “frequent hand washing and avoiding touching face with unwashed hand” — “measures are similar to those utilized against the common cold and flu.”

There are currently no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Mercer County, after a potential case tested negative, according to state health officials.

As of early Monday morning, The New York Times had reported, “[t]he coronavirus outbreak has sickened more than 109,900 people.” That number includes 545 confirmed cases in the United States which have led to 22 deaths.

The state of New Jersey has confirmed six cases of the illness and has not witnessed any fatalities as a consequence of COVID-19.

In response to the outbreak, California, New York, Washington, Florida, Kentucky, Utah, Maryland, and Oregon have declared states of emergency. New Jersey has not declared a state of emergency.

At present, a number of the University’s peer institutions have shifted towards digital class.

On Friday, Stanford Provost Persis Drell announced in an email to the Stanford community that classes will not be meeting for the final two weeks of the winter quarter, as classes will be moved online “to the extent feasible.”

Additionally, in an email on Sunday evening, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger announced that the school will suspend classes on Monday and Tuesday “to prepare to shift to remote classes for the remainder of that week.”

These statements came after a faculty member in the Stanford School of Medicine tested positive for coronavirus, two Stanford undergraduates were placed in self-isolation, and “a member of [the Columbia] community [was] … quarantined as a result of exposure to the coronavirus.”

Both the current and briefly-active versions of the website explained that there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the University.

“University Health Services is prepared to support students who are ill,” the University-domain site read as of 2 a.m.

Caitlin Limestahl, Rooya Rahin, Sam Kagan, Allan Shen, and Evelyn Doskoch contributed reporting.

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