As the novel coronavirus continues to spread and threaten countries around the world, Yale students and faculty members altered their upcoming spring break plans to prevent catching — and transmitting — the virus.
In light of the epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control have discouraged any nonessential travel to Italy, China, South Korea and Iran. Yale community members have largely been forced to change their travel plans to these countries — which, for some, can mean skipping a chance to visit home. Linh Le ’22 originally intended to travel home to Vietnam during the break, but he decided not to after his parents expressed concerns over the new virus.
“Now that the situation has gone much more complicated, I am relieved that I didn’t book flights home, but also really uncertain about what I should do and how to best prepare for spring break,” Le said. “Worse is the feeling, although the situation in Vietnam is so well-controlled, it could take a bad turn in any instance, and I will not be able to take care of my family on the other side of the globe.”
If the virus were to further spread in the United States or become a pandemic, Yale community members would be notified through email and the Yale ALERT system — and the main Yale website will feature a banner with helpful links, said University spokesperson Karen Peart.
Still, she emphasized that there are currently “no plans” to cancel classes.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun declined to comment beyond the community-wide emails sent earlier this week. In a Tuesday email, Chun encouraged students returning home for spring break to “consider bringing any items you will want with you if your return to campus is delayed.”
Chun also urged traveling students to register their trips with the University and stay alert for updates that could impact their plans. Peart told the News that Yale community members who return from travelling to countries with the level two transmission risk — a designation only currently given to Japan — to self-monitor, and students traveling to countries with a level three risk — Italy, Iran, South Korea and China — to self-isolate for 14 days.
It remains unclear how many Yale students are currently studying abroad or planning to travel in these countries. Other colleges and universities across the country have taken steps to recall or relocate those who may be at risk for catching the virus. The University of Connecticut brought back dozens of students from its study abroad program in Italy, and Princeton University students studying in Milan left the country last month. The University of Maine System announced Monday that it would recall 14 students from three affiliated Italian programs.
Yale Director of Study Abroad Kelly McLaughlin said that the University has not required students to return from study abroad. But in light of cancelled international programs, arrangements have been made “whenever possible” to offer options for remote completion or relocation, McLaughlin explained.
“We have been in continual contact with our students who are abroad this term to provide them every level of support that we can,” he wrote in an email to the News.
McLaughlin and his team are working on a website to help answer lingering questions students may have about the fate of study abroad programs. On Monday, Chun shared a new webpage offering University-specific updates on the virus.
This latest bout of coronavirus-related closures raises questions about the University’s preparedness for a pandemic. Since all of the state’s immediate neighbors have reported signs of the virus — including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York — this hypothetical could easily become a reality. According to epidemiology professor at the Yale School of Public Health Kaveh Khoshnood, Connecticut is “quite likely” to report the virus in the near future.
“It’s hard to tell. Frankly, we don’t know,” he said. “But it’s certainly been escalating over the last few weeks. It may be days or weeks from now that it could be called a pandemic.”
According to the CDC, a pandemic refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents. On Monday, the World Health Organization rejected characterizing the virus as a pandemic — citing countries like Brazil with few or no confirmed cases.
According to Peart, the University has consulted with experts from the School of Public Health and the School of Medicine to update Yale’s existing pandemic response protocols in case the virus spreads.
Peart told the News that the University has been engaged in “monitoring and planning” for the possibility of COVID-19’s spread in the United States since January. And, though there are no reported cases at Yale or in Connecticut, the University is following guidance from organizations including the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the CDC, and is working with the City of New Haven to prepare, she explained.
The University’s over 300-year history includes several brushes with contagious diseases. Most recently, hundreds of community members — a large portion of students — reported having H1N1 influenza over a decade ago. The virus ripped through the University from spring 2009 through the fall, all but chaining students and faculty members to voluntary self-isolation until enough vaccines reached the campus in early 2010. Estimates at the time said that there were approximately 660 cases in September 2009.
Khoshnood said he was scheduled to teach a public health course in Mexico in the summer of 2009, but the class was cancelled after mutual discussions. Likewise, in light of the new coronavirus, Khoshnood’s global health course that he intended to teach in central China this summer was cancelled.
“I thought that was done very appropriately,” he said.
Following the trend, the Yale International Relations Association was forced to cancel its yearly Model United Nations conference in Taipei, Taiwan, after the government banned large gatherings on school campuses to help stop the virus from spreading. In an email to the News, YIRA President Minahil Nawaz ’21 quoted her announcement in the YIRA’s newsletter and expressed her disappointment.
“Having spent the past year preparing for the conference with delegates, advisors, non-profit partners, speakers and sponsors, the [Yale Model United Nations Taiwan] Secretariat made the difficult decision in the interest of the safety and health of delegates,” the statement read. “The next iteration of the conference will be held as planned in March 2021.”
For those planning to travel abroad this spring break, Khoshnood said that leaving New Haven could pose a higher risk for catching novel coronavirus, influenza or just about any other pathogen. But the chances of encountering the seasonal flu are “much, much greater” than contracting the coronavirus, regardless of location. He added that a substantial majority of coronavirus patients seem to experience fairly mild symptoms.
As of Tuesday, American authorities have reported 100 cases of the new coronavirus nationwide.
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