Next week was supposed to be spring break at UMass Boston, but on Friday afternoon, students were clearing out of the dorms under a mandate from the university and with no guarantee when they might be allowed back in.

Like many schools, the University of Massachusetts, Boston was taking major steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has now been labeled a pandemic. As part of these efforts, the university had told students in the residence halls they had to be moved out by Saturday at noon, and the school is moving to online classes. They will not be able to return until April 4, at the earliest. The university is allowing resident students who feel like they have no other option to petition to stay in the residence halls.

The campus announced in February that a student returning from Wuhan, China had tested positive for the virus. There have been no further positive tests, but Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman announced Wednesday that "several members of our community have been in contact with confirmed cases."

At that point, Newman canceled classes for the rest of the week.

Alex Rapoza, a freshman business major, first heard about the university's announcement Wednesday through a group chat with his friends.

Rapoza planned to go back home to Dighton, Mass., where he said he'll probably get a job to help him pass the time.

"I mean, it kind of sucks, 'cause it's freshman college year," he said. "So, I guess it's what you have to do in order to prevent it from spreading, so you can't really complain or anything."

University of Massachusetts, Boston students move their belongings out of the student dorms before leaving campus on March 13, 2020.
Meredith Nierman WGBH News

Christine Canning-Wilson drove three and a half hours from Berkshire County Friday with her father to pick up her daughter, Katherine Wilson.

"We were sending her home on Amtrak tomorrow, but we got a notice from them that they were offering waivers because they can't really guarantee the cleanliness. And with everything spreading, I said to my father, 'Do you mind driving down to Boston with me?'" Canning-Wilson said. "I just would rather take the chance that she's in a car and not in circulated air and this and that."

Katherine Wilson said she wasn't surprised at the university's decisions to move to online courses and clear out residence halls due to concerns over the coronavirus.

"I kind of saw this coming, with so many schools in the other areas closing, that I wasn't as shocked," she said. "And, you know, we were the first school in the state to have this case. So I wasn't as shocked."

But while the scene was mostly quiet early Friday afternoon outside the residence halls, it wasn't always like that for everyone.

Darylis Alvarez, a freshman from Worcester, Mass., said the moments after the university's announcement — when the residence halls had to be cleared — were hectic for her personally.

"I kind of went into a panic because everyone else was going into a panic and I didn't know what to do," Alvarez said. "So, basically, I just had to rush to get my plans situated on how I'm going to get home and stuff. It just happened all at once and I was just not prepared for it at all."

She said that cars were lined up and down the street by the residence halls that night as students tried to get out of Dodge.

"Everyone was just taking all their stuff, going home so quickly," she said. "Everyone was just rushing and panicking to go home."

She's going to go back Worcester, but she's worried about missing out on her job as a barista here.

It is not clear when she and her classmates will be back.