The decision comes after the rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases in northern Italy and a reported case in Florence, where 21 Elon students and one faculty member are studying.
In response to news of growing numbers of novel coronavirus cases in northern Italy, Elon University will suspend its study abroad program in Florence for the semester. Twenty-one Elon students and one faculty member will return to their homes from Florence this week. The university and its Italian academic partners will ensure the students are able to complete all coursework remotely.
The decision comes after the number of confirmed cases in Italy rose from a handful to more than 300 within a matter of days. The outbreak is centered in northern Italy in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont, which include the cities of Milan, Venice and Torino. At least a dozen towns in northern Italy have been quarantined and schools across the region are closed until at least March 1. On Tuesday, Italian media reported that an Italian businessman who had traveled to Singapore tested positive for the coronavirus in Florence. He is in isolation at a local hospital.
While the health risk to the students and faculty member in Florence remains low, the decision takes into consideration the possibility of local and international travel restrictions if the coronavirus continues to spread.
Such restrictions would affect the study abroad experience for these students and could impact their ability to return to the United States at a later date if the coronavirus threat increases and spreads to new locations in Italy and beyond.
The Italian government has taken numerous steps to prevent the further spread of the virus, including quarantining multiple small towns in northern Italy and canceling public events. The country could impose travel restrictions in the future depending upon the spread of the virus.
“This was a difficult decision for the university to make, given that these students were already immersed in these important global experiences,” said Woody Pelton, dean of global education. “However, the health and safety of students is our top priority. Given the uncertainty about the spread of the virus and its anticipated impact on travel and our academic program in Florence, we decided it was best to bring these students home as soon as possible.”
Elon continues to closely monitor the spread of coronavirus and its impact on other countries where Elon students and faculty are studying and traveling during spring semester. The university is in close contact with the study abroad programs Elon students are participating in this semester and will respond as needed to any disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 25, more than 80,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed around the world, with almost 78,000 of those occurring in mainland China. Other countries experiencing outbreaks, but on a much smaller scale, are South Korea (977 cases), Italy (322) and Japan (170), as of Tuesday afternoon. Other countries around the world have fewer than 100 confirmed cases, and in the United States, there have been 53 confirmed cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified the situation in Italy as “Alert – Level 2, practice enhanced precautions” that include:
· Avoiding contact with sick people
· Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
· Cleaning hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
The CDC has said that there is “sustained community transmission” in Italy, which means that people have been infected by the virus, but how or where they became infected is not known, and the spread is ongoing.
According to the CDC, illness with this virus has ranged from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms of infection include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Risk factors for severe illness are not yet clear, although older adults and those with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness.
Elon will continue to communicate with students, their families and faculty members potentially impacted by the spread of the coronavirus abroad. More information about the novel coronavirus outbreak is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the World Health Organization.
Other colleges and universities also altering their study abroad programs in Florence due to the outbreak: