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Maryland universities suspend Italy programs as CDC raises coronavirus warning level

The University of Maryland and Towson University have suspended study abroad programs in Italy and told students to return home after the CDC raised its coronavirus warning level Friday night to limit travel in that country.

The university’s flagship College Park campus has 136 students studying in Italy, while Towson has nine students and additional faculty and staff there.

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Both universities notified their campuses after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance for Italy telling people to avoid nonessential travel because of widespread community transmission of the illness.

“This evening the CDC moved Italy from Alert Level 2 to Warning Level 3,” Mary Ann Rankin, senior vice president and provost at the University of Maryland, said in a campuswide email Friday night. “In light of this change, the university is hereby suspending Education Abroad programs in Italy for spring 2020.”

Students from the University of Maryland are expected to leave Italy as soon as possible to return to the U.S.

"Towson University is recalling all faculty, staff, and students who are currently abroad in Italy,” Towson said on its website, adding that it relied on information and recommendations from the U.S. State Department and the CDC, and consulted with its international partners.

The latest warning from the CDC raises the travel advisory level for Italy from level two, in which it advised taking precautions such as washing hands frequently and staying home if a person is sick. The new warning, the highest level of alert, goes further and warns of community transmission, or the spread of the illness to people who did not travel or knowingly come in contact with someone infected.

The U.S. announced Saturday it is elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea, as well as banning travel to Iran.

No cases of coronavirus have been confirmed at either university or in Maryland, where three people as of Saturday morning are being tested for the virus that has sickened more than 80,000 people globally. Two other people were tested in Maryland but were found to not have the virus.

Also on Saturday, health officials in Washington state announced a person has died of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the first such reported death in the U.S.

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Students in the University of Maryland’s Italy programs are being told to return to the U.S., return to their homes away from the campus, follow CDC guidelines to self-quarantine for 14 days and seek medical help as needed. The university’s Education Abroad office is offering possible online study options.

“We continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation world-wide, and will take further action if warranted,” Rankin said in the email.

Likewise, Towson’s study abroad students, as well as faculty and staff returning from Italy, will not go back to campus, and “instead will self-quarantine, in an abundance of caution,” the university website’s announcement says. “All TU Study Abroad students will be fully supported by the Office of the Provost to ensure the completion of their coursework of study.”

On Wednesday, Towson had suspended all upcoming university-sponsored travel to Italy.

Other Maryland colleges and universities that have study abroad programs in Italy, according to their websites, include Salisbury University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Frostburg State University, Loyola University Maryland, Washington College, Stevenson University, St. John’s College, Mount St. Mary’s University, Maryland Institute College of Art and University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Dinah Winnick, UMBC director of communications, said Saturday that all spring programs in countries that have a CDC Warning Level 3 are suspended. The university is in communication with one UMBC student who is studying in Italy through a third-party program about leaving the country. A spring break trip to Italy has also been canceled, she said.

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McDaniel College does not currently have any students studying abroad in Italy, said Cheryl Knauer, director of public relations. The college is monitoring the global situation and is in touch with students currently studying at McDaniel Europe in Budapest, Hungary, as well as other locations, she said.

University of Maryland students in the study abroad program in Japan, currently on alert level two, also need to be “prepared to return to the U.S. should the alert level for that country increase to Warning Level 3,” Rankin said.

Towson had suspended upcoming travel to Japan, but said it will not at this point recall faculty, staff or students currently in Japan.

Students who are abroad also are being urged to limit additional travel as much as possible.

In making study abroad program decisions, Rankin said, the university is relying on information from the CDC, the World Health Organization, the U.S. State Department, state and local health departments, and on-campus public health experts.

On Thursday, the University of Maryland suspended its foreign study abroad programs in South Korea and told students to return home. The CDC raised its alert level from two to three in South Korea, saying that there is transmission within the country and that anyone there on nonessential travel should leave.

The spring program in South Korea was set to begin for eight students on March 15. Six students were already in South Korea and two are still in the U.S.

Both University of Maryland and Towson had already cancelled study abroad programs in China for the spring. Towson said it has not yet made decisions regarding travel during spring break, summer or fall.

“Towson University will continually evaluate this rapidly evolving situation based on the recommendations of both host country and U.S. public health authorities and will take alternative action as appropriate,” the university posted on its website.

Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this story.

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