As the coronavirus spreads to more countries including Italy, local colleges with students studying there are on high alert and meeting regularly to figure out the best way to keep students safe and their families informed.
In some areas, classes or field trips have been canceled, and students are being advised to stay home. In others, programs are proceeding with caution.
“Parents are justifiably concerned," said Ray Betzner, spokesperson for Temple University, which has a campus in Rome. "Their children are far away and they, like us, want to make sure they are safe.”
Concerns were heightened Monday when New York University announced it was canceling classes at its campus in Florence, Italy, and would begin offering classes remotely on Monday, through at least March 29. The university is urging students to leave Florence.
Italy reports the worst outbreak outside Asia, with 322 cases and 10 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the New York Times. The Lombardy region in northern Italy, home to Milan, has been hit the hardest.
So far, no local campuses have pulled students out, though several reported they have students studying in Milan and elsewhere in northern Italy. St. Joseph’s University has three students in Milan and has been in contact with their families, a spokesperson said. Lehigh University also has a handful.
Villanova University has students in four areas of Italy, including nine through a partnership program in Milan. Their classes have been canceled for the week, said Villanova spokesperson Jonathan Gust. The partnership program has advised the students to stay in their apartments for the week and is making arrangements for online programming, he said.
The university also has 23 students in a Villanova program in Urbino, east of Florence, as well as students in partnership programs in Rome and Florence, Gust said. While those students are being provided with health advisory information, their programs are continuing, Gust said.
College campuses are a global touchstone: They emphasize world education and regularly send students and faculty abroad and welcome those from other countries. As such, a global pandemic can have widespread impact.
Villanova, like other colleges, is holding regular meetings with administrators from various departments to discuss the impact of the virus worldwide and on the university, Gust said. That includes summer and fall study-abroad programs, he said. Villanova had a call scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to discuss latest developments.
Dickinson College, which has a program in Bologna, has asked students not to travel outside of the Italian city this week.
“We are carefully monitoring the situation, and we are in regular contact with our students,” said spokesperson Christine Baksi.
Students at Temple’s Rome campus have had to put off tours and field trips since the local government has recommended avoiding large group gatherings.
“So students who might have gone into Rome for a gallery tour, which is very common, those tours have been canceled for this week,” said Betzner, the Temple spokesperson. “Other activities are planned to keep them close to campus.”
Students also may opt for more limited travel there over spring break, which starts Friday, he said.
Temple also has a campus in Japan, where coronavirus cases have been reported, though the majority of students there are from countries other than the United States.
The Temple campuses in both Rome and Japan are in areas classified as Alert 2, where the CDC has recommended only that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions postpone nonessential travel.
“Right now, no changes are anticipated in the academic programs in either Japan or Rome,” Betzner said.
But, he said, the situation can change daily.
“They are making plans … in case classes have to be taught remotely,” Betzner said.
Temple also has a small number of students in South Korea, which is at a higher alert level. The CDC is recommending that all nonessential travel there be avoided. Temple does not run those programs.
“We’re reaching out to both students in the country and those who are planning to go there, about their plans,” Betzner said.
Temple, like many other schools, has already suspended student and faculty travel to China, where the virus originated.