Colleges continue to grapple with how to respond to the new coronavirus, COVID-19, as public health officials report community spread of the virus in California, Oregon and Washington State. There are more than 87,000 confirmed cases globally and, as of Sunday afternoon, 73 in the U.S. Over the weekend health authorities announced the first two deaths in the U.S. from the virus, both in the Seattle area.
Several colleges on the West Coast reported that students had potentially been exposed to the virus. Academic events have been canceled, most notably the American Physical Society annual meeting, which, with 10,000 expected attendees, is the largest annual convening of physicists worldwide.
Lake Washington Institute of Technology said officials learned on Saturday that a nursing professor and 16 of its students were at a nursing and rehabilitation facility late last week where two confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported.
The college's president, Amy Morrison, said in a statement that the college would be closed Monday and Tuesday to continue disinfecting and cleaning the campus, and that all large community and college events for the week are canceled.
The Los Rios Community College District, in California, said that four students at its member colleges have been exposed to individuals with confirmed coronavirus. In all cases the exposure happened when the affected students were performing their professional medical duties. All have been ordered by health authorities to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Los Rios said that three of the four students returned after the exposure to their respective campuses, American River College, Cosumnes River College and Sacramento City College. Despite this, the community college district said it had been directed by Sacramento County public health experts "to take no immediate action and proceed with regular class and work schedules at this time."
The University of California, Davis, reported Sunday that a student who had been quarantined for a possible case of COVID-19 tested negative for the virus. Two other students who were asymptomatic but who lived in the same residence hall were released from isolation.
Many colleges have continued recalling students and faculty from travel to countries with high levels of community transmission — most notably China, where the virus originated, as well as South Korea, Italy and Japan — and are in some cases urging individuals to self-quarantine or refrain from coming to campus upon their return to the U.S.
The University of Pittsburgh said in a press release it is “encouraging all Pitt-affiliated people across its five campuses to practice social distancing upon return from areas with sustained community transmission of COVID-19.” The release asks individuals who have returned from China since Jan. 21 and from Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea since Feb. 13 to refrain from coming to campus for 14 days.
Rice University said on Saturday that its Crisis Management Advisory Committee “has asked a small group of Rice employees and students to self-quarantine because of a Rice employee's possible exposure to the coronavirus while on overseas travel.” Rice did not specify where the individuals had traveled but said it was to a country that is not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restricted travel list.
The CDC recommends against nonessential travel to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, and recommends enhanced precautions for travelers heading to Japan.
The CDC upgraded the travel warning for Italy to its highest level on Friday. Colleges typically abide by the travel warnings issued by the CDC and the Department of State. Accordingly, an increasing number of colleges have announced plans to close study abroad sites and recall students from Italy, which is the second-most popular destination for Americans studying abroad after the United Kingdom. Almost 37,000 American students studied in Italy for credit in 2017-18, according to the Institute of International Education's Open Doors survey. Among the institutions that have suspended their Italy programs or recalled students are:
NBC News reported Friday that the 550 students on a Semester at Sea voyage that was supposed to take them to 11 countries have been trapped at sea for about two weeks. Semester at Sea reported on its website that it made the decision to divert from planned stops in Malaysia and India due to the coronavirus, and that it was denied permission to dock in Seychelles by public health and port authorities there. On Saturday, Semester at Sea said in a statement it had confirmed plans to dock in Mauritius on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the National College Players Association on Saturday called for “a serious discussion” of whether to hold the March Madness basketball tournament and other athletic events without an audience present. A National Collegiate Athletic Association spokeswoman said the NCAA's Sports Science Institute sent memos to NCAA members directing colleges and conference offices to CDC resources on the issue. "Otherwise, NCAA staff continues to prepare for all NCAA winter and spring championships, but we are keenly aware of coronavirus and will continue to monitor in coordination with state/local health authorities and the CDC," the spokeswoman said.
The coronavirus is also causing conference cancellations in North America, including the cancellation of the American Physical Society meeting. APS announced on Saturday that it was canceling the meeting, which was scheduled to start today in Denver. Many attendees criticized the timing of the decision on Twitter, saying it came too late and that they had already traveled long distances to get to the meeting location.
"The decision to cancel was based on the latest scientific data being reported, and the fact that a large number of attendees at this meeting are coming from outside the US, including countries where the CDC upgraded its warning to level 3 as recently as Saturday, February 29," APS said in a statement on its website. "Please wait for APS staff to be in touch with you in order to arrange for a full refund of your registration fees. The situation with hotels is more complicated, and we ask your forbearance as APS looks into what is possible regarding hotel cancellation fees."
Educause, an association focused on technology in higher education, similarly canceled a meeting on Sunday that was scheduled to start today in Bellevue, Wash., outside Seattle.
And Sarah Todd, the president of the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, announced on Twitter that the group would postpone its meeting scheduled for later this month in Vancouver until March 2021.
Although some school districts in Oregon and Washington State have closed, the Universities of Oregon and Washington both said their campuses are operating normally. Colleges are urging students to wash hands thoroughly and practice other good hygiene practices and to stay home and contact student health services when sick. Some colleges are also stepping up their cleaning and sanitation protocols.
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