SALT LAKE CITY — Thirty-three Southern Utah University students and three faculty studying in Florence departed from Italy Tuesday after their program was suspended by SUU officials amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
Presently, none of the students or faculty are exhibiting any symptoms of illness, said SUU spokesman David Bishop.
“As the students and faculty members arrive back in the United States, SUU administration will continue to communicate the expectation that they follow the most up-to-date guidelines regarding reentry into the country,” he said.
The group had been participating in the university’s Jumpstart program and was based in the Florence area. Jumpstart is a one-year program where students can earn all of their general education requirements. The students were originally scheduled to return to the United States in April, but Italy has been hard hit by COVID-19.
The World Health Organization’s latest Situation Report says there are 2,036 cases of COVID-19 in Italy and there have been 52 deaths, 17 of them new.
Meanwhile, the University of Utah has also suspended all university-affiliated international travel and study for spring semester.
“With each passing day, international sites and museums are closing and activities are being canceled, making it increasingly difficult to deliver the intended programs,” the university’s latest guidance states.
U. spokesman Chris Nelson said the university has 112 students studying internationally, but only 22 in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated as level 2, 3 or 4 countries in its system of travel warnings.
There are six U. students in Japan, nine U.S.-based students in South Korea, and seven in Italy. The university is not requiring them to return but is in frequent contact with them to ensure they receive proper support and assistance if they want or need to return before their study is scheduled to conclude, he said.
The directive issued Tuesday mostly refers to students who were planning future travel. Of particular concern were trips planned over spring break or by students who planned to spend the second half of spring semester studying abroad, which included some 600 students.
“The thinking was, let’s cancel this before we get a bunch of folks overseas or out of country,” Nelson said.
The cancellations include international travel offered through Learning Abroad, Eccles Global, the David Eccles School of Business, and global internships offered through the Hinckley Institute, as well as community education’s Go Learn programs, Alternative Spring Break programs and ASUU activities, both in the United States and internationally.
“We recognize this may create hardships for some, and we are working to provide appropriate accommodations. Students who are currently abroad and have concerns about their program and travel should work directly with their on-site and university study abroad coordinators,” said guidance signed by U. President Ruth Watkins, Daniel Reed, senior vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Michael Good, senior vice president for health sciences.
Meanwhile, the U. is monitoring the situation in South Korea, where it operates its Utah Asia campus.
According to the U.’s coronavirus website, classes for spring semester at the university’s Asia campus will continue as online offerings until at least April 3, with the exception of some laboratory courses. In-person classroom operations are expected to begin on April 6. “Until then, individual faculty will continue to reach out to students with expectations and updates for their specific courses,” the website states.
U. officials said the decision to suspend international study programs was made “in an abundance of caution” and based on guidance from the CDC.
The university is working with students whose study abroad credit may be necessary for spring graduation to help them learn about other options to earn credits to complete their degrees on time.
Elsewhere in Utah, colleges and universities are taking steps to recall students or cancel planned trips to or through Asia or Italy as COVID-19 continues to spread. There are no cases confirmed as contracted in Utah, but globally there are nearly 90,870 cases resulting in more than 3,112 deaths, the vast majority in China.
Utah State University has no students currently in Asia or Italy, but it asked those who recently returned to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the United States, said USU spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler.
University officials are working with students whose study abroad experiences have been interrupted to minimize losses of credit, she said.
“The best solution will vary for each student, so our study abroad advisors are working with them and the relevant colleges to help facilitate that process,” Wheeler said.
Westminster College spokeswoman Arrika Von said Tuesday the school has canceled a trip to Vietnam and Thailand for MBA students that was scheduled during spring break, which is next week. The trip had a layover in South Korea.
The CDC has recommended travelers avoid nonessential trips to South Korea and Italy.
The college has also called off Westminster’s choir tour of Italy in May. Officials are also reviewing travel advisories to international locations where students plan to travel for the college’s popular May term program, which are short-term learning experiences.
“We’re meeting every other day and keeping close tabs on the situation,” Von said.
Utah Valley University had scheduled two study abroad groups for travel in May. A trip to China has been cancelled and the university will announce on Wednesday a decision on a planned trip to Italy, said UVU spokesman Scott Trotter.
In a related matter, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education announced Tuesday that it is coordinating Utah’s public higher education planning and response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Each campus is to form a working group, if they haven’t already, and inform the commissioner’s office of their activities. State higher education officials will then report the campuses’ work to the state task force convened by Gov. Gary Herbert.
“As always, our students’ safety is of the utmost priority for us,” said Utah’s interim Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Woolstenhulme.
“Institutions have worked hard to prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 coming to Utah. We are working diligently to ensure the best coordination between our office, our institutions, and the state of Utah for the health of all community members,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version said USU required study-abroad students to self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return. It was actually a request to self-quarantine.