Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Universities Watching for Coronavirus

FILE - Arizona State University and University of Arizona fans engage in friendly competition ahead of the annual rivalry game, Nov. 30, 2019, in Tempe, Arizona.

At Arizona State University, which hosts more than 13,300 international students, people are wearing face masks and petitioning the school to cancel classes after the coronavirus was diagnosed in someone at the university who had recently returned from China.

“From stores selling out of surgical masks to students calling for class cancellations, the 2019 novel coronavirus has taken ASU by storm since Sunday’s announcement that a member of the community was infected with the viral illness,” wrote the student newspaper, The State Press.

While a planeload of Americans flown from China to the U.S. is being held at a California airbase for three days before they will be allowed to proceed into the country — and advised to stay for 14 to ensure they are not carrying the virus — international students have been flocking back to U.S. universities for the past two weeks with no barrier to entry.

WATCH: As Coronavirus Outbreak Expands, Airlines Suspend Flights to China

As Coronavirus Outbreak Expands, Airlines Suspend Flights to China
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:26 0:00

Students on campuses where the virus is rumored or suspected to be present have donned surgical masks and asked officials to cancel classes, including Arizona State University. Many U.S. universities are holding their breath, monitoring students who have returned after the winter break.

At Miami University in Ohio, health officials await the results of two possible cases of the coronavirus involving students returning from China, according to the Butler County Department of Health and the university. At Texas A&M, a student who presented with flulike symptoms tested negative for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, some schools, such as ASU, have banned travel to China, where universities have robust exchange programs and satellite campuses.

At New York University, the university with the largest population of international students — nearly 20,000 — in the largest city in the country, spokesman John Beckman said staff are vigilant.

NYU’s statement was similar to those of other universities with large international student populations contacted by VOA. Many universities are issuing advisories for students to seek help at the campus health center when they experience symptoms, according to email and phone calls VOA made to 10 universities for their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have communicated directly with students who were from regions where travel restrictions are in effect to let us know if they are unable to return to school. We are reaching out to faculty who, our records reflect, have students in their classes who may be affected by the travel restrictions, and giving them guidance and options about how they can enable the students who may be stuck in China to participate in the class,” NYU spokesman John Beckman said.

“Our health center staff has been in frequent direct contact with state and local health departments, and has been in touch with other universities’ health operations, as well as following guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) CDC and the (World Health Organization) WHO. In line with that guidance, we have directly communicated with all the students from affected areas, advising them about the symptoms of the illness, and instructing them to go to the Health Center if they are demonstrating the symptoms,” he said. “This is a time of year in which a lot of students present with respiratory illnesses, which the staff is trained and prepared to handle, so medical staff in our health center will have a heightened sensitivity to travel histories. The head of our health center also sent out a universitywide email about the virus last week, and we’ve established a page with information about the virus.”

No federal guidelines

The U.S. has no official policy or guidance for U.S. universities on how to handle international students who may be returning from points around the globe, including China, to schools in the U.S., according to a CDC spokesperson. There are more than 1 million international students in the country, including nearly 370,000 Chinese students, according to the Institute of International Education.

The CDC “is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China,” according to its website.

The WHO is expected to meet Thursday to decide if the coronavirus outbreak is a global health emergency.

And the University of Southampton in the U.K. convened an emergency study of the coronavirus outbreak, determining, “The spread of the new coronavirus is a fast-moving situation and we are closely monitoring the epidemic in order to provide further up-to-date analysis on the likely spread, including the effectiveness of the transport lockdown in Chinese cities and transmission by people returning from the Lunar New Year holiday, which has been extended to 2 February.”

Two Bangladesh students who are in lockdown in Wuhan interviewed by VOA said while they were very scared, they did not want to leave in case they were infected with the coronavirus.

“It’s better for me to stay in Wuhan,” said Jannatun Nahar, who is studying at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. “All the good doctors are here, military doctors are here.

“If I go back, these [viruses] can be in your body and can stay in an incubation period for 14 days. In 14 days, I will already be contaminated. I think it’s a very big risk for me to go home now. Better for me to stay here,” Nahar said.

VOA Bangla Service contributed to this report.