CORONAVIRUS

Regents bar international travel for next month

Travel prohibition 'could be extended'

Crewman tow in a Boeing Max 737 jet after landing at King County International Airport in Seattle, Washington, on Jan. 2
Crewman tow in a Boeing Max 737 jet after landing at King County International Airport in Seattle, Washington, on Jan. 29, 2016. (Bloomberg photo by Mike Kane)

Iowa’s Board of Regents on Thursday canceled “all university-sponsored international travel for all faculty, staff, and students for 30 days (including spring break)” in response to the coronavirus spreading around the world and in the United States.

The moratorium on university-sponsored travel is effective immediately, according to Board of Regents President Michael Richards.

“We recognize this decision may be disappointing to many in our community,” he said in his statement. “These types of trips provide remarkable opportunities for learning and growth. This decision has not been an easy one; however, we are prioritizing the health and safety of all individuals.”

The board made its call after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health suggested institutes of higher education “consider postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs.”

Iowa’s public universities had already canceled study abroad programming in countries tagged with a “level 3” warning against non-essential travel — including China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. It also included Japan, which has a “level 2” warning to take special precautions when traveling there.

Those cancellations affected more than 120 University of Iowa students abroad in those countries and more than 140 Iowa State University students. Most of them were in Italy, where the World Health Organization reported more than 2,500 cases and 80 deaths.

The University of Northern Iowa also has canceled study abroad programming in those most-affected countries, returning a total of six from South Korea and Italy last week.

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“All are now safely home,” according to UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke. “None have shown any disease symptoms but have voluntarily isolated themselves for 14 days as recommended by the CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health.”

For the latest cancellation, UNI said it had 60 students and six employees set to travel abroad over the next month.

Most of those students — 52 — planned to traveling with the UNI Wind Ensemble to perform in Germany, Luxembourg, France and Belgium, a spokesman said.

UI administrators has said Wednesday that despite the cancellations, the institution still has about 300 students studying abroad in less-affected nations. Another 91 were about to embark over spring break — trips that are now off.

ISU had 255 students planning study abroad trips over spring break, according to ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt.

In a Thursday statement, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen advised anyone with personal spring break travel plans to check the latest alerts and “reconsider travel to impacted regions.”

In terms of university-sponsored international travel, Wintersteen pointed to a policy identifying sponsored travel as a trip paid for in part or fully by the university; related to a credit-bearing activity, like study abroad programming; involving an ISU student organization; or tied to an ISU sport or club.

International business travel for university employees, scholars, graduate and professional students could include trips for research, professional service, outreach, lecturing, conferences, recruiting, and professional development.

Wintersteen warned the international travel prohibition “could be extended.”

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“We understand this decision may be disappointing and disruptive, but our top priority is the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff,” she said in the statement. “We are committed to mitigating the impact on students’ academic progress, and we are working on alternatives for academic credit for affected students.”

Even as the campuses ramp up protections and preventive measures, Iowa remains among the states without a confirmed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus. So far, the Iowa Department of Public Health has tested eight asymptomatic but at-risk people, with seven test coming back negative and one pending.

“While the risk of COVID-19 in Iowa remains low, we encourage the campus community to take appropriate steps to protect their health and safety and prevent the spread of illness,” Wintersteen said.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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