Coronavirus to force California public universities largely online for Fall

California State University system includes 23 campuses, enrolls 500,000 students

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Most students at California's public universities won't be returning to classes this fall.

University of California schools, which include Berkeley and UCLA among its 10 campuses, left the door open for some sort of return to campus but said all schools were preparing to be primarily online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The California State University System, which includes 23 campuses and enrolls 500,000 students, was more definitive, saying it is canceling most in-person classes and will instead hold them online.

Students load up their vehicles and move out of the dorms at CSU Long Beach in Long Beach on March 18, 2020. (Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images)

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The twin announcements made Tuesday come as schools across the U.S. struggle whether to bring students back in the fall, teach them remotely or create a hybrid system incorporating both.

Most schools that have made announcements say they intend to bring students back in the fall, according to a tally kept by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Colleges and universities are under financial pressure to resume in-person classes.

The decision made by Cal State University Chancellor Timothy White's is noteworthy because of the system's scale: 5% of Americans holding a college degree graduated from a Cal State school.

The California State Los Angeles university campus is pictured on April 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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For the system, the ability to bring so many people together in proximity "sadly just isn't in the cards now," said Dr. White, who made the announcement at a Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday. He said exceptions will be made for a small number of hands-on learning experiences such as training with mannequins for nursing students and capstone projects for engineering, architecture and agriculture students.

By preparing for online classes, Dr. White said the system would be better positioned to handle a possible second wave of the pandemic.

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"This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast," Dr. White said. "Virtual planning is necessary because it might not be possible for some students, faculty and staff to safely travel to campus."

CSU Northridge campus in this undated photo (iStock)

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A spokeswoman from the University of California said campuses would have some kind of mix between remote and in-person.

"At this juncture, it's likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in fall," said Spokeswoman Claire Doan in an email. "We are exploring a mixed approach with some instruction delivered in classroom and lab settings while other classes will be primarily online."

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The announcements came on the same day that Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned members of a U.S. Senate committee that opening areas up prematurely might lead to "spikes that turn into outbreaks."

Expecting medicines and vaccines to make returning safer by the start of the school year "would be a bit of a bridge too far," he said.

Write to Douglas Belkin at doug.belkin@wsj.com

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