ELON — Participants in Elon University’s study abroad program in Italy will return home because of the rapid spread of coronavirus.
Elon will bring home 21 students and one faculty member from Florence, the university said in a news release Tuesday. The group had arrived in Italy in late January and planned to spend the spring semester there.
The group was notified Tuesday, and a university spokesman said they’ll return to the United States as soon as they can make travel arrangements.
Woody Pelton, Elon’s dean of international education, said in a statement that it was a “difficult decision” to cancel the program. But, he added, “the health and safety of students is our top priority. Given the uncertainty about the spread of the virus and its anticipated impact on travel and our academic program in Florence, we decided it was best to bring these students home as soon as possible.”
CNN reported Wednesday that four U.S. universities, including Elon, have suspended or canceled their study abroad programs in Florence in recent days.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that 12 people, all of them elderly, had died in Italy of coronavirus. Some 374 cases of the virus had been reported there. Worldwide, more than 81,000 people have been infected. About 95% of reported cases have been in mainland China, mostly in the central province of Hubei.
In Italy, most of the cases have occurred in Lombardy, the northern region that includes Milan. Ten towns there have been quarantined. Florence, where the Elon students have been studying, is about 200 miles southeast of Milan.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Italian health officials registered 52 new cases overnight. More than half occurred in the Veneto region, which includes the eastern coastal town of Venice. Several new cases of coronavirus in France, Spain, Greece, Austria, Croatia and Switzerland were reported in people who had recently visited northern Italy.
Elon News Network, the university’s student media, reported that Elon students will complete their Italian coursework remotely. A university spokesman said Elon would reimburse students for the extra expense of changing their flights.
Elon said it expects to resume its study abroad program in Florence in the fall.
Wake Forest University on Monday said students studying in Venice would remain there. The university notified parents by email that it has told students to cancel travel plans and stay in Venice through at least Sunday, March 1. The university said Tuesday that any Wake Forest students who travel outside of Venice will have to quarantine themselves for two weeks before they can return to the Wake Forest campus in Venice.
On Wednesday, David Taylor, assistant dean for global study away, told the News & Record that “academic instruction with some alteration” will continue on the Venice campus through March 8. The Wake Forest professor attached to the program will continue to teach classes in person, while local faculty from Venice will deliver their classes online.
Wake Forest’s Venice campus is a former American consulate, owned by the university since 1974, that has classrooms and living spaces for students. Because the Wake Forest program is confined to one location, Taylor said this arrangement “(minimizes) the potential for our program participants to contract the virus.”
The Winston-Salem university also sent an email to its study abroad students in Europe on Monday advising them not to travel to Italy indefinitely.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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