Helen Bradshaw, Contributing

In the wake of the University’s decision to cancel all Spring 2020 study abroad programs in Italy, all nine Emory students in the country will have left by Friday, according to Associate Dean for International and Summer Programs Sarah Gouzoules. 

“Due to the challenges of rearranging travel, not all students have been able to leave yet,” Gouzoules wrote in a March 3 email to the Wheel. “All students have left northern Italy now. We are in daily contact with all the students and are tracking their travel arrangements.”

The cancellation came on Feb. 28 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designated the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy a Level 3 threat, strongly advising against all nonessential travel.

Gillian Gurney (21C) was studying abroad in Milan, Italy — the center of the outbreak in the country — in a program from the multi-university Institute for the International Education of Students (IES). She traveled back to the United States this week after receiving notice from the University to evacuate on Feb. 29. 

Gurney told the Wheel that she was never screened during her travels back to the U.S. 

“That’s the biggest shock to me,” Gurney said. “I could feel the stress in the airport because I was anxious to get home.”

Gurney came home after a Feb. 26 press conference from President Donald J. Trump, in which he stated, “We’re screening people, and we have been, at a very high level — screening people coming into the country from infected areas.”

Before she left, Gurney said that increasing numbers of universities were suspending their study abroad programs. Due to the high volume of suspension notices, she began to anticipate a similar notice from Emory.

“Before Emory sent the email, many other schools had pulled their kids, and we were kind of just starting to freak out,” Gurney said. “I called [my friend], and I said I don’t know what’s in store for us. … When I got the email, I wasn’t surprised.”

As soon as Gurney received the email from the University, she called her parents and booked a flight back to the U.S. and had to pack up her entire apartment within a day. Gurney flew from Italy to John F. Kennedy International Airport and then to her home in Los Angeles. 

Although she foresaw her departure in the few days before the University formally requested her return, she noted the difficulty of streamlined communication in such a fast-moving situation.

“Everything was very unclear, and I think nothing was concrete,” Gurney said. “It was literally hour by hour updates.”

According to Gurney, IES suspended in-person class meetings, opting to have students participate in online lectures. The program distributed masks to students and gave them advice on how to stay hygenic. However, Gurney found that the outbreak did not disrupt her or Italians’ daily routines in the days leading up to her departure from the country.

Other universities such as New York University pulled their students from the country on Feb. 24, before the CDC issued the Level 3 advisory. 

The University suspended all sponsored travel to China, after the U.S. State Department updated their China Travel Advisory on Feb. 2. Programs to South Korea were canceled on Feb. 27. According to Vice Provost for Global Strategy and Initiatives Philip Wainwright, at the time of these cancelations, academic terms had not begun in those countries, so students who were planning to study in those countries had not traveled to them. 

Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs Christa Acampora said that the University will work with the study abroad programs to make sure that affected students can complete their academic credit hours remotely.

“Withdrawal is a last resort,” Acampora said. “We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that students are able to maintain their academic progress.”

Regarding aid money which has already been disbursed and used to pay for programs, it is not anticipated that anyone will lose their money entirely. 

“We believe that most students will be accommodated by their provider with an alternate plan, so they should not experience any type of financial loss or negative impact on their financial aid,” Acampora said.

Students who have already paid their deposits will be refunded if their program is canceled. The University will also reimburse students for change fees on their airfare, but students are advised to buy trip insurance in case their plans change. Emory hopes to avoid canceling programs and would prefer to postpone or relocate a summer program before canceling it entirely.

As the situation overseas worsens, some international students studying at Emory remain at risk of being unable to return to their home countries. 

“We are committed to working with students who will have to change their plans for the summer because of disruptions to travel or other health considerations,” Wainwright said. “At this point, we have people looking at what the housing possibilities would be and what the possibilities would be for them to enroll in classes over the summer.”

Preparations for an Outbreak in Georgia

Within the last week, six Americans have died from COVID-19. On March 2, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that two Fulton County residents tested positive for the virus after returning from Milan. The patients are a father and son, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“At present time there is no widespread transmission identified in Georgia and no confirmed illnesses on Emory’s campuses,” Assistant Vice President of Reputation Management Laura Diamond wrote in a March 3 email to the Wheel. “A team of representatives from emergency preparedness, health care, campus life and other units are closely monitoring the situation.”

Acampora said that the Office of Critical Event Preparedness And Response (CEPAR) will coordinate the University’s response to a potential outbreak. CEPAR is looking at contingency plans for the outbreak. CEPAR advises maintaining hygiene and avoiding public areas if feeling ill.  

With spring break approaching, students are advised against traveling to affected areas. 

“Emory students who are traveling should make themselves aware of the CDC advice for that, and also bear in mind that affected areas are responding to significant challenges at this point, Wainwright said. “Travel to these areas for tourism will not help the situation. … Be flexible about changing plans, and think about where you can go to avoid putting a burden on local health systems and authorities.”

On March 3, Emory sent a University-wide email that advised students to be aware of the CDC travel advisories and to take steps to protect their health. The email also advised students to follow the University’s situation updates website.