higher education

Academic science labs around the U.S. are rapidly gearing up to run coronavirus tests for patients in need. They're drawing resources from across campus: technology, chemicals and a formidable workforce — graduate students.

"Normally, when people say they need someone in an emergency, it's not a science grad student," says Katie Cabral, a bioengineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Francisco. "But in this case, my particular qualifications are exactly what is needed."

This spring was supposed to be an exciting time for Xander Christou. He's a senior in high school in Austin, Texas, and was looking forward to all the fun: prom, senior skip day and of course, graduation.

The University of Oklahoma has announced a number of measures to help students manage the transition of moving classes online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

OU is planning to drop letter grades and make the online courses pass/no-pass.

The university will also refund dining and housing contracts for students moving off campus, pay some students who will lose their student jobs and give emergency monetary assistance to students who are struggling financially.

Three of Oklahoma's largest universities announced they are moving online for the rest of the spring 2020 semester.

Students at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma will complete the remainder of their courses digitally. The move is to fight the spread of COVID-19 as the number of cases in Oklahoma has steadily grown. Employees of the universities are encouraged to work remotely when possible.

Oklahoma State University is moving its classes online for the rest of the spring semester to fight COVID-19.

OSU President Burns Hargis announced the move in a letter to students, faculty and staff, Wednesday afternoon. He wrote that some students could remain on campus, but the university is encouraging them to move away if possible.

Lee Myers is a senior at Berea College in Kentucky. Up until March 14, he was living in a dorm called Deep Green, majoring in philosophy with a minor in economics, and looking forward to a future career in social justice. Now that the campus has closed and graduation is canceled due to coronavirus, he and his classmates have bigger things to worry about.

"Some people are panicking, rightly so," he says, "because they don't know what they're going to do. It's sort of like a bombshell that dropped on campus."

The University of Oklahoma has closed its Norman campus through March 20 after a member of that campus community tested positive for COVID-19. 

In a statement issued to staff and faculty, Interim President Joseph Harroz Jr. told non-essential employees not to report to work. 

During the closure, the campus will employ a contractor who specials in critical cleaning functions to deep clean the impacted areas of campus using disinfectants that kill the virus. 

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Updated at 11:44 a.m. ET Tuesday

A growing number of U.S. colleges have canceled in-person classes because of the coronavirus. The closures began in Washington state, and now include Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Rice University, Stanford University, Hofstra University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington, among others. As of midday Tuesday, more than half a million students are affected by the cancellations.

So far just a few U.S. higher education students have confirmed exposure to COVID-19, mainly through contact with patients in hospitals.