Tourists with protective mask visit Florence on February 25, 2020 as Tuscany reported its first two cases of COVID-19. - Italy…
FILE - Tourists with protective mask visit Florence on Feb. 25, 2020 as Tuscany reported its first two cases of COVID-19.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The spread of the new coronavirus to Italy has led universities to reassess study abroad programs in the country, with many American schools this week calling their students back to the U.S.

Schools including Syracuse University in upstate New York and Elon University in North Carolina, as well as Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University, both in Connecticut, said they are canceling programs in Italy, where the  death toll rose to 12 on Wednesday and the caseload reached 374.

Syracuse will assist the 342 students studying at its Florence campus return to the U.S., school officials announced Tuesday. School officials said they were concerned about restrictions on students' ability to travel and move about the city.

"We believe this is absolutely necessary to reduce the risk of our students being unable to leave Italy due to Italian confinement efforts," said Steven Bennett, the university's senior vice president for international programs and academic operations.

Many universities in the U.S., Australia and Europe already have canceled study abroad programs in China, where the outbreak began. Around the world, more than 81,000 people have been infected. More than 78,000 of those have been in China, where over 2,700 have died.

Italy is the second most popular destination for American students studying abroad, behind only the United Kingdom. In the 2017-2018 school year, nearly 37,000 Americans studied in Italy, according to the Institute of International Education.

While many universities have been monitoring reports of the virus' spread, a growing number have decided to call for students to leave midway through the semester.

The University of New Haven has recommended that the 80 students at its program in the Italian region of Tuscany return to the U.S. The university will assess in late March whether it's safe for them to return and, in the meantime, the students will receive online instruction, school officials said.

Sacred Heart University decided to call for 17 students to return from a program in Rome by this weekend, and Fairfield University is closing a program in Florence that enrolls 142 students. Twenty-one Elon students in Florence also have been asked to return to the U.S.

New York University, which already has transitioned to online instruction at its program in Shanghai, announced this week it is suspending its classes in Florence and will begin holding classes remotely next week.

"While we do not believe there is a pressing health threat to the NYU Florence community, the past month has taught us that countries may swiftly and unexpectedly make decisions that can significantly affect one's ability to travel," NYU spokesman John Beckman said.

 

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