Starting last Wednesday, Feb. 26, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) began sending emails regarding the coronavirus outbreak that entered New Hampshire this past Monday, and in response, pulled all 96 students studying abroad in Italy. UNH previously pulled students that were studying abroad in China and South Korea earlier this semester.
Per UNH policy, students are currently prohibited to travel to destinations that the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rate as “Level 3: Reconsider Travel,” or “Level 4: Do not Travel,” which the countries mentioned above have been labeled. In addition to this, UNH has suspended the Italy study abroad program for the Fall 2020 semester, according to an email send out by Education Abroad Program Assistant Teresa Zellem at the UNH Global Education Center.
UNH Police Chief Paul Dean addressed in a Feb. 29 email to the UNH student body that the university is addressing and monitoring the “global outbreak” and that it is a “rapidly changing situation.”
Junior recreation management and policy major Caroline Wilson is from Durham and her study abroad experience to Italy was her first time leaving the town. In Italy, she took classes on wine tasting, pasta making and sketching the city – she doesn’t know what the courses will look like online or if she will be able to continue them.
“Most people have that ‘leave home moment’ when they go to college, but going to school in your hometown is much different feeling,” Wilson said. “So, this was my first experience out of Durham and now I’m back in Durham after only a month. I am not totally sure what I’m supposed to do now. We are taking our classes online but I don’t know how pasta making, wine tasting and sketching Florence is going to go now that I’m not in Italy and online. I’m just frustrated and sad with the whole situation. It’s totally out of my control but I’m feeling robbed of something that I have been looking forward to for a long time.”
Wilson added that she never felt scared of the virus, but she felt “more scared about not being let back into either Italy or the United States,” adding that she thinks the reports of the virus are “making it much scarier than it actually is” and that she “didn’t go through screening when returning” to Logan Airport in Boston.
“Students returning to the U.S. from their study abroad sites will not be taking campus-based courses,” Dean said. “They will receive online courses to accommodate this disruption in their studies.” He added that they request people returning to follow the CDC’s guidelines to monitor their health and to self-isolate for 14-days and “cannot return to campus” until it’s completed.
Wilson said that she feels UNH wasn’t doing enough when addressing the virus, especially when it comes to students returning from study abroad trips. “Even now, the study abroad office has reached out to make sure we are home but there is very little to no support from them about what our next steps should be,” she said. “I felt like there should be more of a response than just wash your hands and don’t leave your house for 14 days. They don’t want us in Italy and also don’t want us on campus so I don’t know what they want us to do.”
The guidelines that UNH highlighted about student’s upcoming travel plans will apply to anyone traveling personally or professionally. UNH also wanted to make it clear that it will not restrict student’s travel to spring break destinations, rather it wants make sure that travelers know what to expect upon return.
In the same Feb. 29 letter, Dean suggested what to keep in mind while traveling and recommended people to avoid travel while sick, and said that travelers whom are flying run the risk of “additional health assessments, health monitoring, restricted movements, or limited contact with others.”
UNH travelers that are going on a university-related spring break trip “must register their trip in the International Travel Registry,” according to the email.
It is unknown what the university will do when students and faculty come back from their travel destinations post-spring break, but some off-campus housing, like The Lodges at West Edge, has sent out letters to residents warning them of the symptoms and explain measures that should be taken in response to potentially catching the virus.
“We have no reason to believe that there is any instance of Coronavirus at our community or the school you attend,” a letter from the Lodges at West Edge said. “However, out of abundance of caution, we thought it might be helpful to provide resources for you in case you have concerns about the spread of the disease.”
The steps that the CDC recommends are: staying home and washing hands; covering noses and mouths when coughing; washing hands frequently; avoiding being six feet from a sick person, and to disinfect frequently touched surfaces – which Chief Dean has said the university has already taken steps to do.
“Staff in UNH Facilities, Housing and Dining has increased routine environmental cleaning including disinfecting frequently touched surfaces on campus like handrails, doorknobs and light switches and will be placing disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in all classrooms, residence halls and dining halls, and areas used by the general public,” Dean said.