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SUNY's move to online learning is a sensible decision

Some, no doubt, will claim that the decision to move state university classes online is unnecessary. They may be right, but given what we know about the novel coronavirus – and, just as important, what we don’t know – it’s a sensible response in a risky and uncertain time. It may prevent the spread of this contagious hitchhiker and will help to stem fear, prevent misery and possibly save lives.

The order affects all state university campuses, including community colleges and the City University of New York. Starting March 19, all face-to-face instruction will cease. Classes will move online, in an effort to reduce the density that simplifies transmission of the virus, which on Wednesday was declared a pandemic, meaning it has been formally identified as a global outbreak of a new illness.

It’s a disruption, but that’s what COVID-19 has caused. The SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, has been canceled. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California has been postponed. The annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C., has been called off.

These events are brief gatherings of thousands of people, some of whom, simply by the odds, would likely be carrying the virus. It should be no surprise, then, that SUNY classes – daily gatherings by hundreds of people – might also be canceled. Indeed, given the duration of a semester, that action might plausibly be seen as even more critical.

At last count, New York trailed only Washington in confirmed cases of COVID-19, though the vast majority are downstate and there have been no deaths here. New York needs to take this seriously and that’s what this action does.

In the meantime, heed the experts: Sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. Wash your hands. Be thoughtful about going into crowds. But maybe buy less toilet paper.

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