Coronavirus Outbreak: University Cancels Spring Break Trips and Urges Students to Stay Home

The Rome, Paris and Limerick campuses are still open

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St. John's University's Rome Campus Central Courtyard. PHOTO/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

While other schools are choosing to bring students home from abroad because of coronavirus concerns, St. John’s has not asked students to return to New York as of Feb. 28. The recent strain of coronavirus (COVID-19), still spreading throughout the European and Asian regions, has affected many people close to SJU campuses abroad. “For students currently at our study abroad sites in Rome, Paris, and Limerick, we encourage you to curtail your weekend and break travel until further notice,” the University said in an email to students and faculty on Feb. 27.

The email urged students who plan to travel during the break to read the articles from the U.S. Department of State and CDC travel advisories, due to increasing cases in Italy, China, South Korea and one new case in Ireland

The email continues, “The U.S. and foreign governments are taking aggressive steps to prevent the spread of the virus including restricting travel, mandatory quarantines, and self-isolation for 14 days.” The email did not address students traveling abroad the week of spring break through St. John’s courses, but the Torch has learned that three of those trips were canceled — one was canceled the day before departure.

Kennedy Kirksey, a senior in the Modern Greek Language class, was doing laundry to prepare for the 2020 Modern Greece trip when she got an email saying that her trip was canceled due to the virus. “[I’m] so upset, especially after receiving the itinerary, having an orientation for the program and the preparations,” she said. The email arrived just 24 hours before her departure. “It didn’t give me enough time to even plan for another trip, seeing as it is my senior year.” In the email to Kirksey obtained by the Torch, the Office of International Education says she will be refunded. 

In a statement to the Torch, University Spokesperson Brian Browne summarized the University’s current protocol: “Our Rome Campus and locations in Paris and Limerick are open for business … As part of its ongoing review, the University canceled three short-term study abroad courses that were scheduled to be held over the next few weeks due to restrictions in moving about those locations that would have had an impact on each program’s academics.” 

A semester-based exchange was also canceled. If students wish to return from the Rome Campus, the University “will help students with adjusting travel arrangements and help to cover the costs of emergency travel and there will be no loss of academic credits to students,” Browne said. 

Our Managing Editor, Dayra Santana, made it to Paris on Feb. 28 for a trip with her Litigation Practice class. Her professor, Will Murphy, informed her that the trip is still on, and that if she were to decide not to go, it will not negatively impact her grade. He told her group that he would not be able to speak for the University on the issue of reimbursement, should students decide they are not comfortable with traveling. 

In another email obtained by the Torch from the Office of International Education on Feb. 28, they directly addressed students in Rome, Paris and Limerick, saying “At this time, for each of these countries, there has been no guidance that courses should be canceled or suspended.”

According to the Office of International Education’s website, students who travel abroad have insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI), and are encouraged to use it if they feel sick.

BBC reports that there are over 400 cases of coronavirus in Italy alone, many schools have closed down and tourism in Milan (just a few hours from Rome by train) has practically slowed to a standstill. According to CNN, the following schools have had their study abroad programs impacted in some way:

  • Villanova University is bringing students home from Italy
  • Gonzaga University has suspended classes in Florence
  • University of Colorado Boulder has suspended programs in China and South Korea
  • Elon University’s Florence program is suspended, students and faculty are coming home
  • Fairfield University’s Florence campus is closed and students are asked to leave
  • Florida International University’s study abroad programs in Italy, Singapore, Japan and South Korea are canceled and students are asked to leave
  • New York University has canceled Florence classes and urged students to leave
  • Syracuse University has suspended classes in Florence and is helping students come home
  • University of Tennessee has suspended programs in China and South Korea

Previous emails from the University on this issue state that there are “no identified cases” in the St. John’s community. They have also included a St. John’s-specific web page with information that any students, faculty, employees and administrators may need. 

Symptoms of the coronavirus were listed to be similar to symptoms of the seasonal flu, such as fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath. Also, instructions on how to prevent the flu include washing your hands and staying home if you are sick. 

If you have any concerns regarding the COVID-19 and any other cases relating to flu-like symptoms, call Student Health Services at 718-990-6360 (Select option 4). Also if there are any other questions regarding COVID-19, please visit https://stjohns.edu/coronavirus