Universities across the Philadelphia region are scaling back study-abroad programs and restricting travel to China in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 170 people and sickened thousands.
University of Pennsylvania students who had planned to study in China this spring are instead studying at Penn, and university officials have recommended rescheduling or canceling all academic, extracurricular, and other programs in China until the spring term ends May 12.
Individual schools, centers, and departments at Penn will “determine if they want to cancel the program, defer it to a later date or host it in another country,” spokesperson Ron Ozio said Thursday. He could not say how many such programs the university has.
Temple University announced Thursday that it had suspended university-affiliated student travel to China, while Pennsylvania State University said it had placed China on its restricted travel list.
In New Jersey, Rutgers University said it had decided to “restrict student, faculty, and staff official or authorized travel to China,” including for teaching, study abroad, and conferences.
The move by Philadelphia-area universities to restrict student travel to China echoes actions by other schools. More than 10 colleges and universities in New England have suspended spring study-abroad programs in China, the Boston Globe reported Thursday.
It’s unclear how many students around Philadelphia may be affected. A number of area universities said their programs in China were small. Just three Temple students were affected by changes to study-abroad programs, all of which were run by other universities, said Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner.
“We’ve either put them into classes here on campus or found an alternative program that’s not in China,” Betzner said.
John Cramer, a Rutgers spokesperson, said that the university had two students who had planned to go to China this semester in a third-party program but that has been canceled. The university is working with the students on an alternative plan for completing courses this semester, Cramer said.
Rutgers has plans for three summer programs in China, with about 36 students signed up, “but we have not decided whether those programs will proceed," Cramer said.
Ozio said only a “handful” of Penn students were affected by changes to study-abroad programs canceled at two locations after Penn’s Chinese partner universities, responding to the spread of the virus, delayed the start of their spring terms.
But, Ozio said, “the number of students impacted by the cancellation of spring break travel is in the hundreds." The university advised its students, staff, and faculty “to delay all personal travel to China for the time being unless it is absolutely necessary.”
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. On Thursday, federal health authorities confirmed the sixth case — and first person-to-person transmission of the virus — in the United States.
Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the patient, who lives in Chicago, was infected through his wife. She had traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated.
CDC officials said the immediate risk to Americans is still low.
Area universities advised students and staff to take steps to reduce disease transmission, like frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes. They also said symptoms of coronavirus resemble those of the flu, and urged anyone with such symptoms who has been to Wuhan or nearby to seek medical attention — though travelers from China who have been in the United States for 14 days without symptoms are considered safe.