WKU students in Italy to return early due to coronavirus related travel restrictions

Rebekah Alvey

As coronavirus outbreaks spread around the world, five WKU students studying in Italy are being impacted by increased travel warnings.

At least three students studying in Italy were called back to the U.S. because of increased travel warnings from the coronavirus, said Bob Skipper, director of media relations. One student is transferring early to London where she had already planned to complete the third block of her trip.

While catching the disease is a concern, Skipper said WKU is also worried students in high-risk countries like Italy would be trapped there because of travel restrictions.

Skipper said the five students were not located in Milan, where the majority of cases are located, and would likely not be quarantined. However, he said they may be asked to self isolate or monitor their symptoms during the next two weeks.

In February, three WKU students completing an internship in China were called back to the U.S., and WKU halted all travel to China.

While there is no concrete plan, Skipper said WKU is evaluating how future study abroad programs, specifically summer programs, may be impacted. In making a decision, he said WKU is looking at what other universities like the University of Evansville are doing.

University of Evansville, which also participates in the Harlaxton program, has cancelled spring and summer programs to Italy, China and South Korea, according to WEVV 44 News.

As the coronavirus outbreaks continue to escalate, Skipper said WKU will continue to monitor and assess the risk to WKU students and the campus. Currently, he said several groups are working together to create emergency plans.

“We’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best,” Skipper said.

Currently, there have been no reports of the virus in Kentucky. However, should the coronavirus impact the campus directly, Skipper said the university may suspend in-person classes and large gatherings.

In an email to all faculty and staff, acting Provost Cheryl Stevens encouraged everyone to stay informed on the situation by monitoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and WKU’s website dedicated to coronavirus updates.

Stevens said teaching faculty and staff should also consider how to include students who stay at home due to illness, and she directed them to the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.

As spring break is just a week away, Stevens also encouraged people to check travel advisories for their destination.

“Above all, we must remain supportive of each other as a community,” Stevens said in the email.

Izzy Hunt, who was scheduled to stay in her program on the Italian Coast until April 24, said she was shocked and upset about the decision to call back students. She said those in Italy showed less concern about the virus, and the only response to the outbreaks were increased caution in travel and hygiene. 

“I’m not sure how to cope with such a devastating loss that I worked so hard for,” Hunt said in a message. “I appreciate my program for wanting to lose such an amazing opportunity to a virus less than the flu is heartbreaking.”

Editor-in-Chief Rebekah Alvey can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @bekah_alvey.