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Impact of the Coronavirus on Campus and Study Abroad — Information for College Parents

CollegiateParent


This article was last updated on February 6, 2020.

The new coronavirus (2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV) has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Infections from the severe respiratory illness, which began in Wuhan, China, are predicted to grow exponentially. To date, more than 28,000 people have been sickened with at least 565 deaths (all but two on mainland China).

Already there have been big impacts for American college students studying abroad, and campuses around the U.S. are working hard to safeguard the health of their students, faculty and staff.

If you have a student studying abroad this term, you are probably paying extra close attention to news stories about the spread of coronavirus.

Here's what you need to know along with resources for finding the most up-to-date information.

4 Main Impacts on Study Abroad

  1. Most programs in China for U.S. students have been cancelled for spring semester following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. State Department. Students are either enrolling for classes on their home campuses or in some cases being rerouted to other study abroad destinations.
  2. Students already in China for year-long programs, and even some American students in neighboring countries, are having their health closely monitored by their study abroad programs and preparing for possible evacuation.
  3. The coronavirus will impact the extracurricular travel that students like to plan for their weekends and vacations while studying abroad, or to tack on after they complete their program. If your student will travel outside the program's home country, they should get guidance from the program about safe (and unsafe) countries to visit and closely monitor the U.S. State Department's Travel Advisories website for the latest country-by-country advisories.
  4. The coronavirus will impact spring, summer and fall travel and study abroad, too. 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.

View an interactive world map of reported cases here >

Response to Coronavirus on Campus

The first confirmed and suspected cases of coronavirus have already arrived on American campuses and inevitably there will be more.

Parents can feel confident that health services at their student's college or university will be monitoring developments and preparing for cases on campus by communicating with students, faculty and staff. This UC Davis webpage is a good example of the kind of information students should expect to receive and that parents can access as well (and is worth checking out for advice even if you don't have a UC Davis student!).

Preventive care will be key to your student staying healthy.

The coronavirus is a respiratory illness spread by droplets from coughs and sneezes. The UC Davis resource linked above advises that students "guard against it like the flu."

Practice good health hygiene by following these flu prevention tips from the CDC:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like flu.

If you travel by airplane in the coming months, you are sure to see many people wearing masks. Wearing a mask can help limit the spread of respiratory disease but does not provide complete protection. The CDC recommends masks only if you are caring for someone with symptoms or yourself have symptoms.

Click here for more information about the protective value of different kinds of masks in relation to the current outbreak.

We are still learning about how serious the new coronavirus will turn out to be and who is most at risk of experiencing a serious or fatal case. So far it looks as if, like the flu, older people and people with existing health problems are most at risk.

A Challenging Situation for International Students

More than 350,000 Chinese students attend American colleges and universities. NPR reported on the stress experienced by some of the 5,800 Chinese students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. Students who had traveled back to China over winter break are monitoring their health and often wearing masks just to be on the safe side, and may feel very isolated when other students avoid them.

At Princeton University, students returning from China are being assessed for risk and then required to self-quarantine for two weeks if they're found to be at moderate or high risk (so far all students have been low risk).

Invariably there is a stigma. Some students interviewed for the NPR story felt there as more tension between international and non-international students.

Every college and university that enrolls international students has an office to support them and these offices will be making extra efforts to counsel students worried about family back home or who experience discrimination, in addition to facilitating academic accommodations for students stranded back home in China because of travel bans.

Parents and family members of international students can also be in contact with this department if they have questions or concerns.

Stay in Touch with Your Student's College or University

Make sure you have signed up to receive emails and text messages from your student's school. If you aren't sure how to do this, contact the Parent & Family Program office for guidance. It's also smart to sign up for updates from the college's emergency management department, and to follow the school on social media (Facebook and Twitter).

Schools will post information on their websites about how they're preparing for possible cases on campus (for example, see this update from Brown University).

Is Study Abroad Safe?

Other ongoing global crises and upheavals — like the massive bush fires in Australia and protests in Hong Kong — are also impacting college study abroad programs. Chile — a country popular with students seeking a Spanish-language immersion experience as well as outdoor adventure — has also been 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).

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