A Timeline of Coronavirus Developments at St. John’s

Here's every event so far, as SJU deals with the coronavirus crisis



March 30, 2020

Graduation is officially canceled by University

In an internal email, President Conrado Gempesaw announced that all commencement activities as originally scheduled will not be held for any undergraduate and graduate students this spring. 

“To our graduating students, we fully understand how profoundly disappointing this news may be for you. Commencement is the culmination of years of hard work and is a special moment to celebrate the completion of your studies. However, the health and safety of everyone should be our priority in making this difficult decision,” the email states.

The University plans to find another way to honor graduating students of all St. John’s colleges at a later date. As of yet there is no word on what these plans will be. 

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March 27, 2020

University extends pass/fail option

Pass/fail options for the spring 2020 semester were extended due to circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Addressed from University Provost Simon Moller, the email states: “In response to the disruption students and faculty have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has decided, in consultation with the Academic Deans and Departmental Chairpersons, to implement an expanded pass/fail option for undergraduate students for the Spring 2020 semester only.”

The extension includes a later date to apply for pass/fail, and exemption of certain pass/fail rules.

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March 27, 2020

University announces Seton Complex has been chosen to aid city’s efforts; No word on when other resident students can get their personal belongings

In an internal communication obtained by the Torch from Residence Life, Seton Complex residents were given a four-hour window on Mar. 25 to pick up their belongings or they would be moved and put into storage by an unnamed moving company. This comes after the Seton Complex was selected to aid the city’s efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“The University understands that this situation is disruptive to our students and we ask for patience and cooperation during this challenging time as we seek to support our fellow New Yorkers,” University Spokesperson Brian Browne said. The University did not respond to inquiries about Residence Life’s authority to remove personal belongings in this situation.

In a subsequent email sent to resident students on Mar. 26 this was addressed, as well as a clarification that resident students cannot return to campus to pick up their belongings as of the time being. 

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March 16, 2020

University announces second case, extends online semester and sends all students home

An internal communication from President Conrado Gempesaw announced to the St. John’s community that online learning is extended through the rest of the semester due to both the spread of COVID-19 and CDC’s recommendation of halting gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. Now, students will not be allowed to campus for the rest of spring semester. Resident students who have paid their room and board fees were notified that they will receive a pro-rata refund from the Office of Financial Aid.

The email also announced a second case on campus.

“On Friday, March 13, the University received a report that we have an employee who tested positive for COVID-19. On Sunday, March 15, we learned that a contractual employee working at St. John’s also tested positive for COVID-19.”

Plans for the University’s various Commencement events and activities are pending but may be prohibited from being held in-person.

Some work-study students have also received notice about their pay, because they haven’t been able to work on campus since March 10. In an email from the Director of Payroll obtained by the Torch, Assistant Sports Editor Sydney Denham was told the following:

In accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education, the University will continue to pay Federal Work Study students unable to work due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

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March 13, 2020

Employee tests positive for COVID-19

An internal communication from President Conrado Gempesaw informed students, faculty and staff that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. 

Late this afternoon, the employee notified their supervisor of their status and the University has consulted with the Department of Health (DOH).  As is the procedure in these cases, the DOH will be contacting those employees who have been identified as being in close and prolonged contact with this employee.”

An outside company has been hired to conduct a deep cleaning of “necessary” areas of campus and Queen’s campus will be closed except for essential personnel on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17 as a precautionary measure. 

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March 12, 2020

University suspends athletic activities

St. John’s Athletic Department announced that the University would be suspending all athletic-related activities for the foreseeable future in accordance with guidance from public health and medical professionals as well as University leadership. 

In a statement, Athletic Director Mike Cragg said, “While this is a challenging time for all of us, I firmly believe it is important to take action, despite the unfortunate impact it will have, in order to help ensure the safety of everyone involved with Red Storm Athletics.”

The Big East tournament was canceled that same day, halfway through a quarterfinal between St. John’s men’s basketball and Creighton University. 

March 9, 2020

University suspends in-person classes until March 27 

Faculty, staff and students were alerted late Monday evening via email that St. John’s would temporarily suspend in-person classes through Mar. 27 as a precaution to the COVID-19 outbreak that is now present in New York City. Students who live on campus were required to find their way home by Wednesday Mar. 11 — those with nowhere to go applied to stay while the campus evacuates. Montgoris Dining Hall remains open for those who are approved to stay on campus. On Mach. 9, all visitation was suspended in the residence halls, and that will continue. According to the email, classes of any kind will not take place until Mar. 11 and from then on, all classes will be held online until Mar. 27. There are still no known cases of the virus in the St. John’s community. As of March 11, there are 173 in New York state. 108 of the cases are in Westchester County and only 14 people have been hospitalized. Washington state currently has the highest amount in the United States with 180 cases and 22 reported deaths.

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March 8, 2020

University announces testing of online classes

St. John’s announced through email that the University will be testing online classes during the second half of the first week returning from spring break, from Thursday, March 12 to Friday, Mach. 13. The email stated, “the physical attendance policy is temporarily suspended for courses until further notice to accommodate students who are not able to attend class due to being sick, required to self-isolate, or immunocompromised unless advised by medical professionals to do otherwise.” Students that were scheduled to report to labs, practicum sites, student teaching, clinical rotations, etc. on Mar. 12 and Mar. 13 were informed that they should proceed as planned unless otherwise instructed by the field site or instructor. 

March 4, 2020

All non-essential business travel restricted

Internal Communications sent an email to students and faculty on the Queens campus stating that St. John’s is restricting all non-essential business travel until further notice, and travel programs connected to service and extracurricular activities (examples include service plunges, career insider view, etc.) are being evaluated and will continue to be reviewed as the departure times for each group draws closer.

Feb. 29, 2020

Students will return from Rome campus to NYC

The University discontinued academic programs at the Rome campus and asked that students make plans to come back to New York. In a statement to the Torch, the University said they will allow students to complete their abroad courses online, and there will be “no financial penalty related to tuition.”

At the Paris campus, there were four St. John’s students in self-isolation. Students on short-term trips to Paris for the week were placed in a hotel. The Office of International Education said the students are healthy, and the measure was taken as a precaution. 

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Feb. 28, 2020

CDC issues level 3 travel advisory and abroad campuses remain open

The CDC issued a level 3 travel advisory for Italy, meaning people should “avoid nonessential travel” due to increasing cases of COVID-19. Our Managing Editor, Dayra Santana, made it to Paris for a trip with her Litigation Practice class. Her professor, Will Murphy, informed her that the trip is still on, and that if she were to decide not to go, it would not negatively impact her grade. SJU trips to Greece are canceled 24 hours before departure. The Rome, Limerick and Paris campuses remain “open for business.” Several universities bring students home from abroad campuses. 

Feb. 27, 2020

University addresses students abroad

The University sent an email to students abroad in Rome, Paris and Limerick campuses asking them to “curtail weekend and break travel until further notice.” The email reinforced preventative steps such as restricting travel, mandatory quarantines and self-isolation for 14 days. The email did not address students traveling abroad the week of spring break through St. John’s courses, but the Torch has learned that three of those trips were canceled — one was canceled the day before departure. 

In a statement to the Torch, University Spokesperson Brian Browne summarized the University’s current protocol: “Our Rome Campus and locations in Paris and Limerick are open for business … As part of its ongoing review, the University canceled three short-term study abroad courses that were scheduled to be held over the next few weeks due to restrictions in moving about those locations that would have had an impact on each program’s academics.”

In another email obtained by the Torch from the Office of International Education on Feb. 28, they directly addressed students in Rome, Paris and Limerick, saying “At this time, for each of these countries, there has been no guidance that courses should be canceled or suspended.”

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Feb. 24, 2020

Student Affairs holds coronavirus seminar

Harlem J. Gunness, Ph.D., informed the SJU community on the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. and other countries. Luis G. Manzo, Ph.D., Executive Director of Student Wellness and Assessment at St. John’s, discussed preventative measures.

Feb. 5, 2020

University sends an update as virus travels to U.S.

This message echoed the first, adding, “To date, several cases have been confirmed in the United States; none are in New York. As of today, there have been no identified cases in the St. John’s community, including on our campus in Rome, Italy, and at our locations in Paris, France, and Limerick, Ireland.”

Jan. 28, 2020

University sends first internal email about 2019 novel coronavirus

“St. John’s is actively monitoring this situation and taking guidance from the New York City Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC has issued an advisory recommending that people avoid all nonessential travel to China. Students, faculty, and staff who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, and other affected areas should monitor their health for at least 14 days for symptoms of Novel Coronavirus. Please note: due to the international response to this outbreak, those who travel to affected areas may experience difficulty returning to the United States, as well as be subject to ongoing health monitoring and quarantine upon their return.

In the United States, the risk of contracting the Novel Coronavirus is very low, according to the CDC. Most patients with Coronavirus have been linked to those who live in or visited Wuhan, China.”

Students and faculty who believed they were exposed to the virus were asked not to return to class or work until evaluated by a healthcare provider.