Coronavirus update: UC cancels Italy study abroad program, students return home

Photo From: Lindsey Rasmussen

Photo From: Lindsey Rasmussen

The two students in Florence do not show any symptoms and will be returning to their families this week

Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 8, following statements from Deborah Wilson-Allam, executive director of the Office of International Education; and Shad Crowe, director of Emergency Management. All numbers and data are accurate as of March 8.

Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief

Utica College is canceling the study abroad program in Italy and is urging the two students in Florence, Italy to return to the U.S. this week, President Casamento announced Tuesday night.

This decision comes from “an abundance of caution and concern for the safety and well-being of our students and on the recommendation of the CDC and the New York State Department of Health,” said Kelly Adams, spokesperson for UC and vice president for marketing and communications. 

The decision to suspend the UC study abroad program in Italy was made in early March came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) began recommending the suspension of those programs in Italy, said Shad Crowe, director of Emergency Management. President Casamento and the President’s Cabinet collaborated with Emergency Management and the Office of International Education to make this decision.

“The concerns were tenfold due to the vast unknowns,” Crowe said. “Obviously, the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 was a looming concern.  Additionally, when it became apparent that travel restrictions both within Italy and surrounding areas were being imposed, we became concerned about how the students would return to the US.  Getting out of Italy might be difficult and entering the US may also become an issue when arriving from countries with high rates of exposure.”

On Feb. 24, the Tangerine spoke with Crowe and Deborah Wilson-Allam, executive director of the Office of International Education. Both stated that the two students did not show any symptoms and that bringing them back to the U.S. was not considered at that point. 

Now, junior Lindsey Rasmussen and senior Joshua McMaster were asked to leave Italy and they will stay with their families during the 14 days that the CDC recommends to monitor the symptoms, according to Casamento’s memo.

“The students, although initially very disappointed and upset, have an understanding as to why we had to make this decision,” Crowe said. “As we are all aware, the numbers have climbed substantially in Italy in the last few days and travel restrictions have been imposed.  It has proven to be a timely and correct decision.”

The students’ return raises questions about what the remainder of the semester is going to be for them.

“They (students) will need to contact their local county health authority and follow the guidelines provided,” Wilson-Allam said. “Once they have been cleared they can return to campus.”

Wilson-Allam also explained that the students will be able to live on campus and continue their coursework online through Florence University of the Arts (FUA).

“Utica College has waived the cost of the residence halls for these students for the rest of this semester, since they had already paid in full for their housing in Florence and they aren’t able to get a refund on that,” Wilson-Allam said.

The two students were also able to get fee waivers on their plane tickets although they changed the date of their return flights.

“I think the biggest cost is emotional,” Wilson-Allam said. “They had planned on this semester abroad for a long time and it must be bitterly disappointing to have that cut short.”

With the number of coronavirus cases in Italy rising to more than 7,000 (as of March 8) according to the data by the John Hopkins University, Adams said the situation is “rapidly” evolving.

“We were communicating regularly with the students, their families and the university and closely monitoring the updates and developments. The advisory from the CDC cemented our decision.”

So far, New York State has confirmed 105 cases and declared state of emergency. As public officials warn that the possibility of the virus spreading across the state, the two people in Oneida County tested negative for coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

The memo also stated that all members of the UC community traveling internationally should notify the Office of Emergency Management in advance.

Senior Casey Hourican said she is “glad” that the two students are coming back and that approves of the decision made by the college and its timing.

“I think it’s kind of like at the perfect time because there are a lot of news articles that are coming out now because of it” Hourican said. “But also at the same time you don’t want to cause such a panic because I know there are a lot of students that are like in a panic about it.”

Junior Caleb Mayer said he also thought that bringing students back was “the best decision.” He explained that it is difficult to act in situations like this because the college runs the risk of spreading panic but also putting students’ health at risk if a decision is not made on time.

“I think that as long as the proper recommendations are followed and they’re not showing any signs of the virus or anything like that,” he said. “Then cannot let them come back would be wrong.”