UC Berkeley, UC San Diego suspend classes, will go online as more schools close amid coronavirus spread

Joshua Guyton
Joshua Guyton wears a mask while arriving at Clifton Middle School in Monrovia on Thursday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

More California universities and colleges, including UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, announced Monday that they were transitioning to online learning because of the coronavirus outbreak.

San Jose State, San Francisco State and Santa Clara University were among the institutions that were suspending all or most in-person classes immediately or in coming weeks.

In an email, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ emphasized that there are no confirmed cases at the university but that officials had decided to take steps to protect the community.

All lectures, seminars and exams at the flagship university will be offered through digital platforms, and any events with more than 150 attendees will be canceled or postponed. Classes that require in-person instruction, including labs and performing arts, will continue to meet. The changes will be in place through at least March 29.


At UC San Diego, Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla announced that classes will continue to meet for the last week of winter quarter, but beginning in spring quarter, all lectures and discussions will be held remotely.

Starting Monday, Stanford University had also moved its classes online for the final two weeks of winter quarter after a faculty member tested positive.

Christ said that “in our assessment of the current situation, including the likelihood that the Berkeley campus could have a coronavirus case here at any time, we believe that this is the best action for our campus community and the broader Berkeley community.”

The largest school K-12 district in Northern California, Elk Grove Unified School District, canceled classes and sports games through Friday amid the growing spread of the coronavirus.

Murrieta Valley High School in Murrieta was closed Monday, as well as Lowell and Riordan high schools in San Francisco.

USC will test online classes later this week and remained in operation as usual Monday.

Murrieta Valley High School
Murrieta Valley High School was closed Monday.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

These represent only a fraction of the schools and colleges around California affected by the coronavirus, but they could offer a preview for elsewhere as the coronavirus spreads.

“It’s a question of when — not if — some California public schools will face closure because of COVID-19,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday in a statement. “School districts must prepare for these scenarios so that parents and children can plan for what would happen if their local school faced closure.”

Several elementary and secondary schools in the Seattle area have closed, and more may follow soon, but health officials warned that such a move could backfire.

State officials have offered new guidance for schools, suggesting various scenarios under which educators could close a school.

School officials are racing to educate students and families about the epidemic and slow the spread of germs among children, while also preparing contingency plans if they are forced to shut their doors as a last resort.

At the Los Angeles Unified School District, an official checks in every day with the county health department and asks three questions: Is anyone sick in L.A. County? Are there any exposures affecting schools? Can we go about things normally?

At the school level, overtime pay is available to allow for deeper and more thorough cleaning of “high-touch” areas. Such areas include towel dispensers, doorknobs, staircase railings, computer keyboards, toys, bus seats, the coffee pot handle in the faculty lounge.

So far, only a small number of schools in California have closed, and often only temporarily for cleaning.

Concerns over the virus prompted Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills to close until at least Thursday, according to an email blast sent by head of school Rabbi Y. Boruch Sufrin, who said digital classes would be available to students. Messages left for the academy Monday weren’t returned.

Clifton Middle School in Monrovia was deep-cleaned Thursday after officials became aware that a person who might have the virus had been on campus. Monrovia Unified School District President Robb Hammond said officials hired a company to disinfect the school.

In San Jose, a preschool closed after a teacher tested positive for the virus. An Oakland charter school was closed through the end of last week because of a possible exposure, and an exclusive private school in Atherton was closed through the weekend after a potential exposure of someone connected to the school.

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the campus will remain open after assessing that the risk of transmission is low, but he said the university is ready to switch gears at any time.

“We will continue to monitor and assess the risk, but at the present time, there is no reason for us to suspend ordinary instructional activity,” Gillman said. “In-person classroom meetings will be under normal operation for the week of March 9.”

Newsom said in his statement that school closures would have major impacts on families.

“It’s also not lost on anyone that these scenarios would put significant stress on families — especially those with the least financial resources. Already, we are seeing how this outbreak is having significant economic impact on families, workers, businesses and communities across California.”