The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 21st

Coronavirus affects UNC students studying abroad in Italy

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Italy is the third most popular destination for study abroad programs at the University, and 48 students are studying there now. 

But now, COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, has spread to Italy, resulting in travel restrictions and class cancellations for UNC students in the country.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 500 people in Italy had been diagnosed with the virus, with 14 cases in the country resulting in death, according to reports from the Washington Post.

Virginia Blanton, a junior majoring in journalism, is studying in Milan. She first heard about the outbreak on Saturday and her classes were canceled for the week.

“I felt like I was removed from the virus, but now it’s here,” Blanton said.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent an email Wednesday night to the University community with information about the spread of the disease.

In the email, Guskiewicz said the University created a website for information about the virus and recommended following the travel advisories.

The University recommends students contact their study abroad directors and advisers with questions, Guskiewicz said in his statement.

Emily Ballsieper, a junior majoring in psychology at UNC, is studying in Florence. She first heard about the outbreak of coronavirus last week.

The Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, where Ballsieper is studying, has recommended students not leave Italy, she said. No classes have been canceled at that university.

“People are texting me from home like, ‘Are you coming home? Are you alive?’” Ballsieper said. “It’s kind of taken over our experience.”

Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs and chief global officer, said in a Thursday statement that UNC students in Italy and Japan, countries categorized as CDC Alert Level 2, should stay in contact with their study abroad advisers and follow the recommendations of their host institutions.

UNC has placed travel restrictions on nonessential University-affiliated travel to South Korea and China, Stephenson said. The University is communicating with affected students and there are no changes to the summer or fall 2020 study abroad programs.

Those considered essential travelers must contact Andrew Hunt, global operations specialist, for plans to be reviewed and approved, Stephenson said in the statement.

Stephenson also called on all students to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus.

“We recommend everyone carefully consider their spring break travel plans since the situation is rapidly changing and the virus could spread to more communities during that time,” Stephenson said in the statement.

The University’s decisions are informed by guidance from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said in the statement. 

In Florence, the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute has given students the option to leave Italy and complete their classes from their homes or at UNC, Ballsieper said. 

All educational trips sponsored by the institute outside the campus area have been suspended, according to an email sent by the institute obtained by The Daily Tar Heel. However, students can travel by their own choice.

Ballsieper said she is taking a trip to France, but won't be able to use public transportation. She said her friends from home were supposed to come on the trip as well, but have decided to stay home.

“It’s really thrown a wrench into our plans,” Ballsieper said.

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