With the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 exceeding 100 confirmed cases, six deaths, and health departments monitoring thousands more in the United States, colleges and universities around the country are taking a number of precautionary measures, from isolating students and employees exposed to the virus to suspending study abroad programs in high-risk countries.
Over the last month, coronavirus has infected more than 92,000 people and claimed over 3,000 lives, mostly in China, but the virus is beginning to spread globally and making its first appearances in the United States, prompting U.S. universities to take action.
On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control advised universities to postpone or suspend their foreign exchange programs. The suspension of foreign exchange programs could impact the lives of the more than 300,000 students who study abroad every year.
“Given the global outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) institutes of higher education (IHE) should consider postponing or canceling upcoming student foreign exchange programs,” the CDC wrote in a statement. “IHE should consider asking current program participants to return to their home country.”
In California, the state currently with the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus, University of California Davis put three students in isolation out of an “abundance of caution” and community colleges in northern California also isolated some students who had exposed themselves to the virus during their work as medical professionals. On Tuesday morning, the University of California suspended all of its study abroad programs due to the virus.
While there are fewer confirmed cases of coronavirus outside of California, schools in other states are following suit and taking similar measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Some universities had previously canceled study abroad programs in China this year, and universities in Vermont, Maryland, Illinois, and Kansas among others began restricting travel to Italy, earlier this week.
The University of Pittsburgh advised students who have recently traveled to areas with “sustained community transmission” of the virus to practice social distancing. Social distancing includes avoiding campus for a 14 day period after travel, avoiding public transit, and avoiding group settings while maintaining distance from others.
As of Tuesday, the state of Washington had the highest death toll as a result of coronavirus. At the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, a nursing professor and 16 students were exposed to the virus at a nursing home. The campus was closed from Monday through Tuesday to disinfect the campus.
“Currently, we have a total of 22 students and faculty affected: 17 Nursing students, one Physical Therapy Assistant student, and four faculty members who are in self-quarantine,” LWIT President Amy Morrison said in a statement. “Of those nursing students, one was at EvergreenHealth in clinicals, and one of the faculty members had been to the Life Care Center of Kirkland to visit a family member, unrelated to college activities.”
Morrison added that the public health department believes the risk to the campus community to be low and that she expects the campus to reopen on Wednesday, March 4th.
The CDC recommends frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For the CDC’s full guide on preventing the spread of coronavirus, including at polling places in today’s elections, visit the CDC website.