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Health & Safety

Impact of the Coronavirus on Campus and Study Abroad


This article was updated on April 4, 2020.

COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has now sickened more than a million people worldwide and more than a quarter million in the U.S.

When CollegiateParent began covering the story in January, we focused on the impact the epidemic (not yet a pandemic) was having on study abroad programs, and how schools were preparing for the possibility of cases on campus.

At this point, thankfully, most American students who were studying abroad have returned home although a number remain stranded. Meanwhile, most colleges and universities have transitioned to remote learning for the remainder of the spring term.

The majority of states now have "stay at home" orders in place and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend wearing cloth masks when going out in public in order to protect yourself and others.

Here are good ways to stay informed and connected during this rapidly evolving public health crisis:

  • Receive updates from your city and state governments and your representatives in Congress. Visit your U.S. Senators' and Congressperson's websites to subscribe to their electronic newsletters.
  • PBS and NPR (public television and radio) provide in-depth, well-researched journalism. Your local public radio station may have an electronic newsletter you can subscribe to, which will include updates relevant to your community. Read your local newspaper if you have one!
  • Make sure your student reads all emails sent from their college or university. Parents should be able to sign up for newsletters, too. Many schools now have pages on their websites dedicated to coronavirus-related updates. You can also follow the school on social media (Facebook and Twitter).
  • Join a neighborhood group like Nextdoor so you can assist your neighbors or reach out for help if you need it.

Get Facts About COVID-19

Preventive Care Can Help All of Us Stay Healthy

COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness. Virus is shed through exhaled breath as well as when infected people cough or sneeze. Molecules can remain suspended in the air for hours and survive on a variety of surfaces for hours or days.

Practice good hygiene (find more guidance on the CDC website):

  • Wear a cloth mask in public and stay at least six feet away from other people.
  • Minimize your grocery shopping trips. When you do need to go out, wear a mask and bring disinfectant wipes to clean cart handles, keypads, etc.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for a full 20 seconds. (Need a song to hum? Create your own hand washing infographic at If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you've just washed your hands.
  • Don't socialize in person with anyone outside your own family or household.
  • Stay home if you are sick! Contact your health provider about the procedure for getting tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, dispose of it and wash your hands.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect household surfaces and objects most likely to harbor germs: door knobs, handles, faucets, cell phones, etc.

A Challenging Situation for International Students

Many international students were unable to return to their home countries and have remained on their campuses. Every college and university that enrolls international students has an office to support them. Parents and family members of international students can also be in contact with this department if they have questions or concerns.

Continuing Impacts on Study Abroad

The pandemic is likely to interrupt summer and fall travel and study abroad programs. If your student is researching and applying for summer or fall programs at this time, they should be sure to stay on top of breaking news and seek extra guidance from study abroad advisors on campus.

If your student plans to study abroad in the future, their program most likely will require an international insurance plan. Be aware of the coverage for medical emergencies and medical evacuation.

Many college-sponsored programs also partner with businesses like CISI (Cultural Insurance Services International) and provide students abroad with a mobile traveler app to help them stay connected with their program, home campus and family members.

Will Study Abroad Be Safe in the Future?

Other global crises and upheavals (like the massive bush fires in Australia and protests in Hong Kong) also impacted college study abroad programs. Chile — a country popular with students seeking a Spanish-language immersion experience as well as outdoor adventure — was a hot spot recently.

Study abroad remains a wonderful, life-enhancing choice for many college students. It's always important for students to have clear goals for their study abroad experience and to thoroughly research programs as they prepare to apply.

To learn more about study abroad at your student's school, visit the study abroad/international education website — they may provide information just for parents and family members. Individual study abroad programs often include a parent handbook on their website (or one will be available after your student has accepted admission to a program).

Be sure to read Study Abroad Safety Tips for College Students.

CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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