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The Hall cafeteria is shown nearly empty Tuesday at noon on the Central Community College-Hastings campus. 

Staying connected with fellow leaders in the community is what Central Community College-Hastings Campus President Jerry Wallace says is going to get Hastings through the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, in the coming weeks and months.

Wallace said it is the college’s position to stay as normal as possible as long as possible during the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, which now has reached all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

College President Matt Gotschall announced Sunday that all face-to-face classes at all CCC locations would be canceled for this week, but online classes continue in the run-up to spring break scheduled to begin this weekend. Meanwhile, employees are continuing to report to work, the college website says.

CCC serves 25 counties with main campuses at Hastings, Grand Island and Columbus and several other satellite locations.

“It’s business as usual on campus,” Wallace said of the Hastings campus Tuesday afternoon. “For students who will stay over spring break, the dining hall and student services will be open. We’re obviously trying to stay away from large groups (gathering) and haven’t made a decision (about switching to online courses). Our spring break is March 23-27, and we’re planning and have the capability to go remotely to online classes as of March 30. That’s what our faculty and staff are doing this week, preparing for making sure our academic integrity doesn’t drop at all.”

Off campus, Wallace has remained in touch with top administrators across the city, including Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schneider, Mayor Corey Stutte, representatives from Mary Lanning Healthcare, Hastings College, Educational Service Unit No. 9, South Heartland District Health Department, and others. Their collective objective, he said, is to work together to minimize the potential impact of exposures and cases within city limits and beyond.

“The good thing is so many groups and organizations have been collaborating on sharing information,” he said. “We have so many avenues for communication and want to make sure that everybody is working collaboratively, making sure we’re doing the best for the community as a whole.”

To date, about 10 of the 121 students on campus have announced intentions of wanting to stay on campus during the crisis, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday during a White House news conference may peak in number of active cases in 45 days.

Wallace said he expects the number of students planning to stay on campus to increase as the disease spreads.

“Things may change if people have family members with health issues,” he said. “We’re prepared to help the students out however we can. Luckily, we have a very flexibile faculty and staff.”

Wallace said the college is working with faculty and staff members who have expressed concerns over the virus and will reduce the number of employees on campus over spring break and for the duration of the crisis.

Staff who live on campus likely will remain there and continue to work as needed, he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing CCC in the coming months is the volatility of the situation, Wallace said. At present, there are more questions than answers as he and fellow campus leaders look to anticipate the needs of students, staff, and faculty in the coming months.

“We’re not sure we’ll be able to have graduations,” he said. “Luckily, that’s in May, so hopefully everything is back to normal and we can control everything by then.

“Hopefully there are no fatalities. It’s unknown how fast the virus is spreading (or) how long the effects of the layoff from school and time away will hurt the students’ learning in the long run. The unknown is the biggest factor.”

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