Loyola students studying at the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC) — a Loyola campus based in Rome — are being sent home following a decision to halt programs in Italy as the 2019 coronavirus spreads, an email sent to students from JFRC Director Michael Andrews said.
“[Loyola] is asking all JFRC and partner school students to return home by Wednesday, March 4,” the email said. “Students re-entering the U.S. are required to stay in place at home for a 14-day observation period.”
COVID-19 — the official name for the 2019 novel Coronavirus — is the cause of the outbreak that started in China and spread to other countries in Asia, Europe and North America, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) website. With 1,577 confirmed cases and 34 deaths as of March 1, Italy is the hardest hit European country, according to Italy’s Ministry of Health website.
Upon returning home, all students are being asked to stay at home and monitor their health for 14 days, according to a March 2 email sent to students obtained by The Phoenix. Students are advised to not go to school or work, check their temperature several times a day and if they develop symptoms, to call ahead before seeking medical care, the email said.
“Please remember that it’s our civic responsibility to do everything we can to prevent any additional spread of the virus, keeping in mind the most vulnerable among us,” the email said.
Loyola joins a growing list of colleges and universities — such as New York University and Gonzaga University — to halt study abroad programs in areas heavily affected by the COVID-19 virus which has heavily hit the northern regions of Italy, the Italian Ministry of Health website said.
The United States State Department and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both recently upgraded Italy to a level three travel advisory — meaning people should avoid non-essential travel. This upgrade influenced the university’s decision to pull students out, the university said in the email to students. Self-imposed quarantine is in accordance with CDC recommendations when traveling from a country with a level three advisory.
JFRC sophomore Maya Williams — who studies international business and French — said the announcement came as a shock to her.
“It’s hard to believe since [the situation’s] escalated so quickly,” Williams, 20, said. “It was almost like a joke … then 30 hours ago we got the news.”
Other JFRC students — like junior environmental policy major Eric Luu — said the announcement wasn’t too surprising.
“It’s a mix between shock and not being surprised since there are many other schools that pulled students out,” Luu, 21, said. “It would’ve been nice to stay longer but I take it as it comes so I’m not really sad about it.”
The announcement threw the campus into a frenzy, Williams said.
“It was like ‘The Purge’, everyone was screaming and crying,” she said. “It was absolutely insane.”
Loyola is working with travel agencies to help arrange flights and help with some of the costs of travel for students but more information will be sent later, the email said. Midterm exams, originally scheduled for March 2, are postponed and the school is creating online classes expected to start the week of March 16, the email said.
Andrews didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Phoenix by the time of publication.
Despite the chaos in Rome, Williams said Loyola has done a good job responding to the crisis.
“As much as [leaving] absolutely sucks … I’d much rather have them get us all out now,” she said. “The university made the right call to get us all home before it got worse.”
The JFRC had been monitoring the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Italy and briefed students in a Feb. 25 meeting about proper hygiene, new sanitation schedules at JFRC and advised them to not travel within Italy, according to emails obtained by The Phoenix from Andrews. Spot temperature checking — a non-invasive way to check for fever with a thermometer — was also implemented at JFRC.
Just two days later on Feb. 27, JFRC Associate Dean of Students Adam Muri-Rosenthal said in an email to students they weren’t planning on sending students home.
“While we are aware that some of our peer institutions in Florence have closed for the semester, at present, let me reassure you that we are in constant conversation with Chicago, following guidelines approved by the US Embassy and State Department, and there is currently no plan to suspend our program,” Rosenthal said in the email — obtained by The Phoenix.
Loyola has also implemented a moratorium on university-sponsored travel to China, The Phoenix reported. It’s unclear if there have been precautions at Loyola’s Vietnam campus, as Chris Albright, the director for Loyola’s Vietnam Center, didn’t immediately respond to request for comment by the time of publication.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Former Loyola Phoenix Assistant News Editor Jane Miller was at the scene and contributed to the reporting of this story.