David Guo

While the coronavirus has now grown into a global pandemic and prompted nationwide shutdowns, the virus posed an unclear problem for Yale before spring recess began on March 6.

On-campus concern regarding coronavirus began in earnest late January, when a high school student attending the annual Yale Model United Nations conference exhibited flu-like symptoms and was ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for the virus. The conference, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 23-26, was cut short, and the student, who had tested positive for the flu, was isolated and later tested negative for the novel coronavirus. Further precautions were taken by the University when Provost Scott Strobel sent a Feb. 3 email to the Yale community asking all travelers from China to register on an online form. Those who had registered were asked to self-isolate. Yale students on the Richard U. Light Fellowship — a program that provides funding for East Asian language study — left China.

As spring recess approached, some Yalies were forced to reconsider their travel plans as the CDC discouraged any nonessential travel to Italy, China, South Korea and Iran. Connecticut reported its first known case of COVID-19 on March 6. The next day, Strobel and Yale Health Director Paul Genecin said in a community-wide email that all regularly scheduled University courses and dining operations would continue normally. As the University adapted to a rapidly changing global situation, students faced an uncertain end of the semester.

Yale had been engaged in “monitoring and planning” for the possibility of COVID-19’s spread in the United States since January, University spokesperson Karen Peart told the News in early March.

The last session of the Yale Model United Nations conference was canceled following reports of a visiting student’s potential infection.

“While Yale regrets that the participating MUN students will not be able to complete their conference’s program, we feel it to be in the best interest of those students and of the Yale community to take this precaution,” Genecin informed the Yale community in a Jan. 26 email.

YMUN released a statement around 2:00 a.m. on the last day of the conference announcing the cancellation of all committee sessions, transportation and closing ceremonies due to “unforeseen circumstances.” The organization disclosed the reason for the cancellation only after Genecin had made his official announcement.

“While I do understand the reason why Yale made that decision … I think it could have been handled in a more calm, deliberate way,” Campbell Pflaum, a freshman at Choate Rosemary Hall and delegate at the conference, told the News in a January interview.

In a Jan. 31 email, Genecin announced that the YMUN student tested negative for COVID-19. The patient had been administered a blood test at Yale New Haven Hospital before being released into the care of their teachers and advisors.

Yale continued to take precautions regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus. In early February, members of the Yale community returning from China were asked to register on an online form and self-isolate. Ten Yale students in mainland China on the Richard U. Light Fellowship then left the country. As of early February, seven of these fellows planned to continue their studies at the International Chinese Language Program in Taiwan, according to Light Fellowship Director John Park. Plans for faculty and other Yale affiliates who had remained in China were still uncertain in February.

As COVID-19 continued to spread around the globe, concerns of virus-related discrimination also grew.

In a Feb. 6 email to the student body, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun emphasized the importance of “[treating] every member of this community with respect and common decency, irrespective of national origin, ethnicity, or area of scholarship.”

As many universities began to recall students studying abroad, the fate of Yalies spending their spring semester in programs overseas remained an open question. In early March, the University had not required students to return home, but arrangements had been made “whenever possible” to offer options for remote completion or relocation, according to Yale Director of Study Abroad Kelly McLaughlin.

Connecticut reported its first known case of COVID-19 on March 6. In a community-wide email sent the next day, Genecin and Strobel issued new guidelines in hopes of limiting the spread of coronavirus. Students, faculty and staff were encouraged to “postpone, cancel or adjust” all Yale-hosted events — excluding classes — that were expected to have at least 100 participants.

“For now, we are operating under the assumption that classes will begin again as scheduled,” Genecin and Strobel stated in that email. However, they added, “Developments are fluid and moving quickly.”

These guidelines would later be overturned, as the pandemic’s threat became more serious. Students ended the semester online — and it remains to be seen when Yale will invite its students back to New Haven.

The 2020–21 school year is currently set to start on Sept. 2.

Serena Lin | serena.lin@yale.edu