COVID-19 + Fall 2020 Planning

Biomedical Research Building

Plans for Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Graduate Education Fall 2020 Semester

Date of Update: July 9, 2020

This fall semester, the University has committed to a dual-delivery mode of instruction following being exclusively online for the second half of the spring and entire summer 2020 semesters. The intent of this web page is to keep everyone up to date on what decisions have been made and what our plans are and provide answers to common questions. Although all the details are not worked out at this time, there are several committees across campus that are actively looking at our class schedule, classroom availability and course delivery methods to help plan for a safe and engaging Fall 2020 semester. 

On behalf of the School of Medicine Graduate Education, please note that the following core principles are guiding our decisions moving forward:

  • The health and safety of all our students, faculty and staff is our top priority
  • It is important to maximize the student experience for all students

These, in addition to local and national guidelines, which are closely being followed by key leadership, will help us plan as we move forward with a safe and effective Fall 2020 semester.

This will be dependent on the course instructor. Some instructors are re-evaluating their assessments and replacing traditional exams with others modes of assessment. Some are using online proctoring or exam monitoring. Others are choosing to make their exams open book. Please check with your instructor during your first week of classes!

Things like seminars, including our pre-professional health series and professional development workshops, will be held virtually. This will allow everyone to participate and engage as it would be if in person. Further, they will now be recorded, so if you have to miss one due to a conflict, you can still benefit from the content. Some may have the opportunity to attend in person for those who are on campus.

We are still working on the details of this. We will have more information in the near future.

Most colleges and universities have very similar plans as we do for this semester. Most medical schools will understand that this is the only option for this year and will not think differently of the courses. Our faculty are working hard to ensure that any online courses, or parts of a course that are online, are as equally valuable as they were in person as possible. 

We do not formally have connections across the country. However, most hospitals and larger volunteer organizations (such as your local foodbank) have a volunteer portal where you can see opportunities and sign up to be a volunteer. Some of the internships offered through our EnRICH program have been remote, thus not necessitating you be physically in Cleveland. However, this is not common.

We encourage you to continue to volunteer if you can do so in a safe manner. Many volunteer organizations have changed the way they work and have very fulfilling opportunities to participate in while minimizing exposure to others. For example, the Hunger Network of Northeast Ohio has open positions such as helping load food into trunks at a large food drive, where our physician assistant students recently volunteered.

Still continue to check in with physicians. Some may let you still shadow them if you comply with their guidelines, such as wearing a surgical mask. Some may be doing tele-health visits, and shadowing during those visits might be a very interesting experience for you.

Individual programs will continue to connect incoming and returning students as we have done in the past. Many may have some virtual (and maybe some not virtual) events for their students to interact socially. In addition, our Biomedical Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) continues to plan events as well, many of them virtually.

Our goal for the fall is to create an experience that works for everyone and is of the highest quality available. Although this is very challenging, we are trying our best. There are a large portion of students who would prefer an in person experience. There is also a large portion of students who would either prefer, or for travel, health or other personal reasons, need an online experience. Therefore, we will make a 100% online experience available to those students who need it. However, for those who prefer in person experience, there will be options for in person interactions available. Regardless of how much of your program you do online, you will have access to the same high quality courses with exceptional faculty worthy of the CWRU name. You will have access to the same professional development, library resources and other services. In addition, to increase flexibility, you will have the opportunity to switch to more online or less online mid semester if you so choose or if the pandemic landscape changes. As a result, the tuition will be the same.

Case Western Reserve is committed to implementing dual-delivery instruction for the Fall 2020 semester. This is important to be inclusive of students who are unable to attend due to health reasons, travel bans or other reasons. Details continue to be finalized, but, in general, this means that all classes will have the opportunity to have 100% remote students. Faculty are reviewing courses and evaluating best approaches for each class offered. More details on individual courses will be shared over the summer by respective programs. Some will be in person (with virtual access available to remote students), some will be fully online, and some will offer a blend of in-person, online, and other activities.

The School of Medicine is currently requiring all individuals entering buildings to wear a mask and has installed additional hand sanitizing stations. In addition, increased cleaning has been implemented in all School of Medicine buildings. For more details, visit School of Medicine COVID-19 communications for faculty, staff, graduate students and post-docs. In addition, for more University-wide health communications, please visit CWRU COVID-19 Health Updates

Additional on-campus safety precautions for faculty, staff, and students include:

  • Faculty and staff reporting to campus must complete an online daily health attestation form. 
  • Non-medical cloth masks must be worn at all times when on campus. Please refer to the email sent by Research Administration on May 6th for exceptions. 
  • Physical distancing 6 feet to ensure guidelines are met; reduction of population density.
  • Max Occupancy signs have been posted by common areas. 
  • Cleaning materials are provided in all public areas to allow research and administrative staff to clean surfaces commonly used for break rooms, conference rooms, and offices being used for meals. 
  • Utilize Zoom technology or phone conferencing in lieu of in-person meetings. 
  • Use stairs whenever possible; two people in an elevator at one time.
  • Classroom safety protocols are being finalized and will be communicated throughout the summer.

Yes! But please check with your program for more details as your program may have some changes or limitations. As of right now, our clinical programs are working with their clinical/public health rotation sites for clinical rotations. Some rotations are happening via telehealth, some are happening fully in the clinic/community with aid of masks, social distancing and/or other precautions. The School of Medicine is working to ensure all students who need PPE have access to them.

On June 11, President Snyder and Provost Vinson shared the modified calendar for the Fall 2020 semester. 

The revised calendar aims to lower student travel to and from campus, and also lower the number of people on campus before the height of flu season begins, and applies to graduate programs who largely follow the undergraduate academic calendar. Professional degree programs will receive updates from their respective programs as their academic calendar plans are finalized. Below is the approved Fall 2020 calendar, with changes to the usual academic calendar in bold:

  • Monday, Aug. 24: Classes Begin
  • Monday, Sept. 7 (Labor Day): Classes Held
  • Monday-Tuesday, Oct. 19-20 (Usually Fall Break): Classes Held
  • Monday-Tuesday, Nov. 23-24: No Classes (in lieu of Fall Break)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 25: No Classes (in lieu of Labor Day)
  • Thursday-Friday, Nov. 26-27: University Holidays (Thanksgiving)
  • Monday-Friday, Nov. 30-Dec. 4: Final Week of Classes Held Remotely
  • Monday, Dec. 7, Friday, Dec. 11: Reading Days
  • Tuesday, Dec. 8-Wednesday, Dec. 16: Final Exams (Excepting Dec. 11) Held Remotely

The Office of the Provost website provides guidance and resources as students, faculty, and staff prepare to begin the Fall 2020 semester.

It is important for our students to have the best guidance and safety protocols around visiting or moving to Cleveland amid COVID-19. Please visit the Cleveland Visitor Center website for helpful travel information and resources as Cleveland reopens. Be sure to contact your program if you have any additional questions.

COVID-19 Q&A for International Students

The federal announcement of changes to guidance regarding Fall 2020 temporary exemptions added new complexity and concern to a year already full of both. We deeply regret the stress this news causes, and want to emphasize that we will do all that we can to provide information and assistance as this situation unfolds.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued to block enforcement of the proposed guidance. In addition, members of Congress and other higher education leaders are urging the administration to rescind the order. The situation remains fluid, but please know that opposition to the measure continues to grow. We are consulting with colleagues across the country and experts in immigration law; as more information becomes available, International Student Services will communicate with you.

We will provide updates on our website as we learn more.

Case Western Reserve has committed to provide instruction both in-person and online whenever possible, and expect that a majority of courses will fall into this hybrid model. We do not yet know how many online credit hours students can take and still maintain their visa status. We will share this information as soon as we have it.

The guidance mentions issuing new I-20s that verifies this hybrid model. We are currently in the process of getting clarification about issuing these new I-20s.  At the moment, you don’t have to do anything.  ISS will be in touch with you soon with more information.

If your current F-1 visa is valid, you do not need to get a new one.  Issuance of a new I-20 has no effect on your valid visa.

We are very excited that you will be joining our community. We hope you were or will be able to get your visa and join us in August. We understand, though, that you may have difficulty getting here by the start of the semester, and that is okay. We plan to offer a majority of our classes remotely, so you can take your first semester in your home country and plan to join us face-to-face when circumstances allow. ISS will assist you with pursuing F-1 student status before you come to the U.S. for the start of a future semester.

Welcome back! We’re looking forward to seeing you in classes in the fall. As we currently interpret the proposed exemptions, you will maintain your current visa status by taking courses on campus in our hybrid model. While we still need more guidance, we will do everything we can to help you stay in status while taking both remote and in-person courses on campus.

We hope that many of you have valid visas and will be able to be back on campus this fall. Our current understanding is that you will maintain your current visa status as long as you are able to return to CWRU for the start of the semester.

We do know, however, that some of you will not be able to return in time for the start of the fall 2020 semester. As the proposed guidance currently reads, you may lose your status for the fall 2020 semester. If this happens, ISS will work with you to help you establish new F-1 student status when you are able to return to campus. As far as we can tell, there are two main potential implications of losing your status while abroad.

  1. Academics - Even if you are unable to maintain your F-1 status, please know that it is possible for you to continue your education at CWRU.  You can enroll in online/remote coursework while you are outside the U.S, and you will receive CWRU credit and advance towards your degree if you complete the coursework satisfactorily and pursuant to course guidelines.  If you want to pursue this option, ISS strongly recommends that you reach out to your academic advisor or Navigator to develop a plan for continued academic success. 
  2. Time Accrued in the U.S. - Losing your status causes you to lose all time accrued in the U.S. towards OPT/CPT. We understand that this outcome could have negative implications for many of you. We are working to learn more so that we can provide clarity here. We are still learning the government’s intent, and we hope the final guidance clarifies this issue.

We don’t know the answer to this question. If CWRU moved to an exclusively remote learning option, the current guidance says that students in F-1 status would have to leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status (for example, transfer to a school with in-person instruction). However, in the spring, the federal government issued new guidance that provided an exemption when higher education institutions all went to remote learning. We don’t know what the government will do if higher education institutions around the country make the move to remote learning again. What we do know is that we will consider all implications, including visa status implications, before making any operational changes. Our goal is to protect all of our students, including our international students and their status.

YES! We are also frustrated with the proposed exemptions. We do not think that they take into account this unique situation and they do not support our international students. We are actively working with our colleagues around the country and our professional organizations to encourage our government to change these proposed exemptions.

We will continue to add information and more FAQs to the website as information becomes available. As you know, things change quickly, and we are working to make sure that we clarify everything we can based on our best information today.

Please check our website frequently for updates, and as always, do not hesitate to contact our office at with any questions or concerns.

For more program-specific information, please contact your graduate program, or email