The University at Buffalo announced Wednesday that it is bringing nine students home who are currently studying abroad in countries affected by the novel coronavirus.
The decision followed an announcement from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday morning that all State University of New York and City University of New York study abroad programs in China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea—five global hotspots of infection for the new virus—have been suspended effective immediately.
As a result, UB Provost A. Scott Weber said eight students in Italy and one student in South Korea have been instructed to return to the United States.
“Our students will be transported back to the U.S. in chartered flights arranged by SUNY from South Korea, Italy and Japan to New York’s Stewart International Airport in the coming days,” Weber said. “We contacted each UB student and informed them of this decision and we are currently assisting SUNY in coordinating our students’ return.”
About 300 SUNY and CUNY students will be returning to New York State from the five countries, according to Gov. Cuomo. All of them will enter a 14-day quarantine at designated SUNY campuses upon their return.
Weber said it’s possible some students could be quarantined at UB, but the university does not know which campuses will be used at this time.
The university is also canceling all UB-related international trips involving students for the rest of the spring semester—even to countries not currently affected by the coronavirus.
“We made these decisions because the health and safety of our students is of paramount importance to the university whether they’re pursuing their education at our home campus or anywhere in the world,” Weber said.
And while UB can’t force any students to cancel personal travel plans, Director of Student Health Services Susan Snyder said she urges the campus community to rethink international spring break trips.
“We strongly recommend they [students] look at where they’re going [and] where their layovers are,” Snyder said. “If they have a way of backing out of that without a big financial impact, we’re really recommending that students and really faculty and staff consider not traveling internationally.”
Snyder also discussed the university’s protocols for handling potential cases of the virus, which she said is “ever-evolving.”
“Every day we are monitoring what’s happening. ‘What’s the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] saying? What is New York State saying, what is the local government saying?’” Snyder said.
“If we have a student of concern, so whether it is a travel history that’s concerning or whether they have flu-like systems that are concerning them, we’re triaging those students. We’re collecting the information and we’re talking to Erie County. Erie County is really guiding us as to what we need to do with those students.”
Snyder also said that, as per Erie County guidelines, the university will only share numbers when or if a student tests positive for the coronavirus. It will not share numbers of how many students’ tests come back with negative results.
Weber added that UB has been making plans since mid-January for all campus operations in the event of a potential outbreak of the new virus. UB President Satish K. Tripathi also announced this week the creation of a COVID-19* Advisory Committee comprised of faculty, students and staff from across the university, which is intended to provide perspective and advice on the evolving situation.
*COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.