It’s spring break time on college campuses, and that means students travel.
If they traveled to a country on alert for the coronavirus, colleges in the region are asking them not to return to campus for 14 days and to monitor their health during that time.
Temple, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, and St. Joseph’s University are among the local schools asking affected students, faculty, and staff to stay away.
Some call it “self-monitoring.” Some use the word quarantine. Others say “self isolate.”
Regardless of the term, the practice is a good one, said Steve Alles, director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Division of Disease Control, given that the city is trying to prevent the illness from being brought into the community.
“Universities have a little bit of extra risk … because of their international travel programs and students who come from places like China, maybe Italy, and also things like spring break, where a lot of their student body travels," he said.
At Temple, the notice from Mark Denys, senior director of health services, went out Thursday.
“If you have traveled to any of these countries during the past 14 days, including during spring break, this means you must self-monitor for 14 days from the date you arrived back in the U.S.,” the message said. “You may not return to any of Temple’s U.S. campuses during that period.”
The countries include China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea.
Last week, Villanova asked students returning from Italy to stay off campus for 14 days. The university this week extended that request to include any of the countries on alert.
“You must call the Student Health Center … to review recent travel history and receive guidance regarding your self-monitoring period and return to campus,” the school said.
Colleges have to rely on students’ willingness to comply. While many campuses have canceled school-affiliated spring break trips abroad, some students travel independently and aren’t required to tell universities their destinations before they leave.
Alles said he doesn’t expect compliance to be a problem.
“With something that’s high profile like this, getting a lot of news attention and that has some fear, … we typically get a lot better cooperation,” he said.
He said he would not extend the isolation period to students who traveled in countries not yet under alert, even recognizing they may have traveled through an international airport.
“Being in a layover [at an airport] in an affected country doesn’t constitute the same risk as being in the country exposed to the people," he said.
Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said the university won’t know the impact until students start reporting that they need to stay off campus. He stressed that no students or staff at any of Temple’s campuses have been diagnosed with the virus.
Faculty have been asked to provide alternative learning options.