On March 6, 2020, UW President Ana Mari Cauce announced that all university classes would be conducted remotely due to safety concerns around the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The UW was the first large college in the United States to go online amid COVID-19 concerns, with 14 deaths and 84 infections in Washington state linked to the coronavirus at the time of the announcement. 

After a year of online school as COVID-19 cases and deaths have continued to rise, a part of Cauce’s message seems naive in retrospect: “We plan to resume normal class operations when spring quarter begins March 30, pending public health guidance.”

Yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. According to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, 57% of Washingtonians aged 16 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state is set to lift restrictions by June 30. The university plans to return to largely in-person classes and activities starting fall 2021

However, as of right now, spring quarter at the UW remains predominantly online, with the exception of limited in-person classes such as labs and arts- and performance-based courses. What do in-person classes — compliant with COVID-19 guidelines — look like at the UW after a year of largely remote learning?

BIOL 446: Plant Classification and Identification


Teaching assistant (TA) Ana Maria Bedoya demonstrates how she displays images from the microscopes to the projection screens in both lab rooms. Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the TAs and students can no longer share microscopes, leaving the TAs to come up with creative solutions to see each student’s slides on May 5, 2021.


Rachel Wang looks at a plant sample under her microscope. Wang’s microscope eyepiece is covered in saran wrap to prevent potential COVID-19 transmission.


Limited amounts of students are allowed in labs, and everyone must be spaced apart from each other.


Fans in the window are part of the ventilation system in place to protect students and TAs from COVID-19 transmission. 

ART 393: Intermediate Painting Topics


Anh Nguyen paints the scene in front of her at Parrington Lawn on May 12, 2021. The class meets in-person twice a week, venturing to a new location on campus each week for their site-specific paintings.


Professor Ann Gale talks to Richard Tang about his artwork.


The university supplied new French easels so students could meet in-person and travel to various locations around campus beyond the Art Building.

ESRM 351: Wildlife Research Techniques


Associate professor of quantitative wildlife sciences Laura Prugh demonstrates the radio telemetry system for students on April 30, 2021. Students are tasked with finding radio collars that were hidden by Prugh throughout Union Bay Natural Area (UBNA). 

“The in-person component of our class is outdoor labs on Fridays,” Prugh said in an email. “They aren’t very different from what we would normally do except everyone is wearing masks, and we had to cancel our [two] field trips and find ways to do the field trip activities at UBNA or the Arboretum.”


Rebecca Ton and Annika McFeely listen to the telemetry system as they attempt to find where the signal is coming from. The Friday labs are the only in-person component of the class.


Gidget Boe (center) and their team decide where to go next as they triangulate the radio telemetry signals.

DANCE 244: Movement Practices: Special Topics


A sign on the dance studio doorway lays out rules for studio use and cleaning on May 7, 2021.


Megan Sellman leans backward on one foot as the harness and rope hold up her body. The class focuses on low flying vertical dance.


Elana Skeers talks with professor Roel Seeber about her dance during the warm-up practice session.

ART 253: Introduction to 3D4M: Ceramics


Various signs, including a university COVID-19 poster, fill the window of the entrance to the art building on April 6, 2021. The School of Art + Art History + Design has limited allowed visitors and restricted building access to one entrance.


ART 253 professor Douglas Jeck split the class into three groups to maintain adequate social distancing and safety. Each group occupies one room and focuses on one type of ceramic work for a few weeks before rotating to another room.


School of Art + Art History + Design Director Jamie Walker leads one-third of the ART 253 class in a pottery wheel demonstration.


A whiteboard in the entry hallway of the art building requires all staff to mark themselves “in” or “out.” All visitors must sign in and complete a daily COVID-19 symptom attestation form.


Sophia Kimble constructs a working tabletop waterfall.

ESRM 412: Native Plant Production


Thuy Luu takes soil from a bin and places it in a plant tube on May 12, 2021.


A student takes a plant from the bin before placing it in a tube.


AmeriCorps member Chloe May shows a group of students how to fill the tubes with soil and plants.


Signs along the wall in the Douglas Research Conservatory encourage social distancing.


Lars Krokum and Jane Fitzgerald work on setting up the timer for the irrigation system. The self-sustaining system will keep all the plants watered over the summer.

Reach photographer Hannah Sheil at [email protected]. Twitter: @thehannahsheil

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