Packed dorms and globe-trotting students are forcing Washington-area colleges to reckon with the new virus from China, including canceling study programs abroad and recalling students from Beijing as fast as possible, as case counts climb in Asia, the U.S. and elsewhere.
The University of Maryland said it is heavily disinfecting high-traffic areas and restrooms to help put students at ease.
“We continue to take proactive measures and monitor the evolving global situation with novel coronavirus, and I wish to express support to members of our community who have personal connections to the people and areas most affected,” Mary Ann Rankin, a senior vice president and provost, told Maryland students in an email blast. “At this time, there are no known cases of coronavirus at the University of Maryland or in the state of Maryland.”
The university, like other schools, suspended university-sponsored travel to mainland China.
American University, in Northwest Washington, said it asked nine students studying in Beijing to return as quickly as possible. They were screened at the airport and must self-monitor their health for two weeks, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Like many U.S. universities, we do have students from China. In situations like this, our focus is on any travelers to or from the country experiencing the public health issue, which includes students and all AU community members,” said Kelly Alexander, the university’s public relations director.
The college scramble underscores the breadth of the coronavirus outbreak, which is sickening thousands, upending travel plans and stretching global budgets.
The virus causes symptoms including severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress. Scientists think it hopped from animals to humans at a market in Wuhan, China, in December.
Since then, the virus has infected more than 28,000 people and killed at least 563 in mainland China. Cases outside of China exceed 200 and are spread across 24 countries.
Wisconsin officials reported the 12th case in the U.S. on Wednesday in a person who had recently traveled to Beijing. State officials said the person is isolated at home and doing well.
The World Health Organization pleaded Wednesday for $675 million to combat the coronavirus, saying deep-pocketed countries should realize that the situation will get worse unless they open their purse strings.
“Invest today or pay more later,” Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
He said the bulk of the outbreak is still centered near Wuhan in the Hubei province of China, with more than 28,000 cases, so that should be the focus of global efforts.
“Doing our best at the epicenter slows the spread of the virus,” he said.
The U.S. government said Wednesday it is flying about 350 passengers out of that Wuhan epicenter and back to the states. They will be taken to military installations throughout the country and quarantined for two weeks, per the response plan President Trump implemented Sunday.
Universities, meanwhile, are instituting their own travel bans.
Georgetown University halted school-related journeys to China after study-abroad programs canceled their spring semester plans, according to The Hoya, the student newspaper.
Sinclaire Jones, a Georgetown student, told the paper she was disappointed to miss out on the Shanghai program.
“But I believe the program and the university made the right decision,” she said. “I can only hope for the best for the country and its people and that this virus is somehow contained.”
Some schools abroad face an even more urgent problem.
South Korea has tens of thousands of Chinese students at its universities, so Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae told schools they should consider delaying the spring semester by up to four weeks, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
Classes usually get underway in March, but the delay could help Chinese students who are trapped in their home country or are self-quarantining during the 14-day incubation period for the coronavirus.
Americans evacuated this week from Wuhan will be quarantined for two weeks at one of four facilities: Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also approved the use of Camp Ashland, a department property in Nebraska, for up to 75 people who may need to be quarantined upon arrival from areas affected by the coronavirus.
The Defense Department said its personnel will not be involved because the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for evacuees.
“Should routine monitoring of the evacuees identify ill individuals, HHS has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian medical facility,” the Defense Department said. “HHS will also ensure that no evacuated personnel are transferred to any DOD installation if they are infected or ill.”
The U.S. government flew nearly 200 people out of Wuhan on Jan. 29. They are under quarantine in California.
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