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'I thought they were overreacting': Students plan spring break around coronavirus


DTH Photo Illustration. A UNC student holds a suitcase and a surgical mask on campus on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. The coronavirus has cancelled various study abroad programs. 

With UNC's new coronavirus-related restrictions for foreign and domestic travel, while some students have found their travel and spring break plans disrupted, others plan to keep moving. 

Junior Amelia Jerden, who has been studying abroad in Florence, Italy, had her semester cut short because of the virus’ spread. While her friends have asked her about being in Italy during the epidemic, Jerden said she was surprised that she didn’t see anything abnormal.

“At first, one thing that really upset me was that I didn’t feel like the panic I was hearing from home was really reflected in what I was seeing,” Jerden said. “Everything in Florence seemed the same, nothing was changing, no one I knew was sick.”

Initially, Jerden was frustrated when she and others in her program were contacted by the UNC Study Abroad Office, who let them know that they would have to return home as soon as possible.

“I thought they were overreacting,” she said. “But now, given the fact that the United States has closed borders with China and that Trump said he has considered closing borders with Italy and South Korea, it just kind of made me nervous, and I see more now why UNC decided to pull out.”

Jerden said she realized a big part of the University’s decision came from the fact that if students didn’t return home soon enough, they might get stuck in their study abroad locations.

In a formal notice sent out Wednesday night, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said UNC is restricting University-affiliated travel to locations in the U.S. where a state of emergency has been declared related to the coronavirus. 

The notice said if you travel to an affected area, you may be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus.

“We did not come to these decisions lightly and did so with the health and well-being of our entire community in mind, while also following federal and state guidelines,” Guskiewicz said in the notice.

Yogitha Chareddy, a first-year graduate student in the UNC Department of Biology, said her school sponsored trip to San Francisco, California was canceled because the state declared a state of emergency.

Chareddy, who is originally from California, said she was excited to visit some old friends, but decided it seemed better to stay in North Carolina. Her friends in California told her it wasn’t worth coming, with all the uncertain circumstances and cancellations.

“Since I am a researcher in biology, it's really interesting to see what my colleagues have to say about all of this,” she said. “Honestly, I feel like, because the University kind of has the responsibility to take care of their students, I think it makes sense for them to go for these restrictions.”

She said the restrictions also made sense for people like her, who work so close to the hospital, so that a school-affiliated trip won’t endanger patients.

Chareddy said while UNC was being cautious, she thought airlines should have been more understanding with returns and different financial problems that come from having to cancel trips.

But some students, like junior Sienna Zuco, have decided to continue on with their personal trips over spring break.

Zuco said she and her boyfriend had been planning a trip to Paris and Barcelona since last semester. While she said the coronavirus is a concern, they’ve decided to still go so that they don’t miss this opportunity.

"There might not be a chance to do this again together, like it's now or never,” Zuco said. “I remember when I was talking to my mom about it, and she was like, 'You can't put your life on hold for something like this.'"

Though Paris and Barcelona haven’t been very affected by the virus, Zuco said she still wanted to be prepared, purchasing face masks, Germ-X and special hand-cleaning fluid for the two of them.

Zuco said while the virus is obviously a big deal, she thinks fear has greatly exacerbated the problem.

“I wouldn't say that I'm not worried,” Zuco said, “but I do think that, as long as people continue taking the precautions that they should be taking, I do think its spread can be limited.” 


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