Following amplified concern over the threat of coronavirus, USC has canceled several spring study abroad programs and University-sponsored spring break trips to areas of Europe and Asia.
The University made the announcement in a campus-wide email Friday, acknowledging the new information released from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that community spread of coronavirus will most likely occur in the United States. A case in Solano County, Calif. was confirmed Thursday with no clear indication of the origin of the contraction. However, the University said California’s risk remains low. As a result, campus-wide activities will continue as usual.
“With the exception of selected international travel, we are continuing all our normal activities, including in-person classes and events,” the email read. “Our focus is on campus-wide preparedness. We are closely following the conditions internationally where our students and employees are studying and working and, when necessary, assisting those individuals to return to campus and/or the [United] States.”
Schools including the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Marshall School of Business and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have canceled several international programs to limit travel and ensure student safety.
Nearly all spring break study abroad programs, including those to countries that have a limited number of cases such as Mexico, have been canceled, with a few exceptions. USC did not indicate which programs would not be affected.
Study abroad trips in South Korea and Italy were also canceled last week once the travel advisory level reached Level III. A Level IV “do not travel” advisory has been issued for the Lombardy and Veneto regions in Italy, with more than 1,000 cases reported in the country, according to the World Health Organization. South Korea — which has more than 3,700 cases of the virus according to the WHO — has also issued a Level III travel advisory. Programs in China were canceled in early February. The country faces nearly 80,000 cases.
Some semester-long programs, such as those in Spain and the Netherlands, have not been canceled. USC has not indicated whether these programs will be affected in the following months. Spain has around 45 confirmed cases while the Netherlands has seven.
USC said it is canceling the spring break programs involving international travel due to the evolving nature of the coronavirus epidemic, which has led to flight cancellations, quarantines and border closures in affected countries.
The University plans to support international students who are unable to return home by keeping dining halls and student housing open during spring break, according to the University statement. Typically, student housing and dining halls operate with modified hours over spring break, but the University has not indicated whether these hours will be extended to accommodate students who cannot return home.
“We have numerous support systems in place for international students who are unable to return home during spring break due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions or general travel concerns,” the statement read.
On Thursday, Marshall canceled all of its international trips through May, citing the rapid spread of the coronavirus in several regions worldwide. Several students from the World Bachelor in Business have returned home.
“After having already cancelled many trips, and rearranging or rescheduling others, we have decided that it is best to curtail the ongoing uncertainties and potential disruptions associated with the international trips this semester,” the email read.
However, the four-year-long program, in which students register at partnered universities in Hong Kong and Milan, has not been canceled because the students are also enrolled at those institutions.
Grace Yu, a junior majoring in business administration who was studying in Milan with Marshall’s WBB program, said in-person class meetings in Milan were suspended Feb. 23, but some professors elected to shift to an online format. Yu traveled back to the United States this weekend after learning the number of reported coronavirus cases had increased by 50% in Italy as of that weekend.
“After that notification, a lot of people booked flights for the next day and immediately went home,” Yu said. “A lot of the fear is ‘I don’t want to be stuck in Italy, I don’t want the city to shut down and not be able to leave’ … I think the scariest thing right now is we don’t know how long this is going to be.”
Yu, who paid out of pocket for her flight, said that WBB students did not receive updates from University officials or the program on whether classes will resume.
“Our counselors are really hopeful that classes will resume as scheduled in maybe two or three weeks, but they don’t know what’s going to happen if our midterms … or our final exam will be delayed,” Yu said. “Nothing is guaranteed, and everything is contingent upon the development of this virus.”
USC did not comment on how the University plans to handle financial and academic logistics for students required to return to the United States.
Sean O’Connell, the Marshall undergraduate international program manager, said that although he anticipates mixed reactions to the cancellation of spring break programs like the International Experiential Corporate Learning Program in South Korea, student safety remains a top priority.
“We understand that they’re going to be disappointed, we understand maybe some of them will be angry with us,” O’Connell said. “But I’d rather live with that than live with the fact that we may be bringing students into an area that could change overnight, and then suddenly they’re stuck there.”
Annenberg students received an email Friday night announcing the cancellation of spring break immersion trips. Annie Nguyen, who planned to travel through the program to Mexico City, said she was frustrated to learn the program was canceled two weeks before they were set to leave without any prior indication of the possibility that that would happen.
“I think it would have been beneficial for the University to [update students] as they were making decisions,” said Nguyen, a sophomore majoring in journalism. “They’ve been pretty on top of not worrying on coronavirus, but I think I would have appreciated [an update] of ‘We might cancel your program’ just to put that out there before ‘Hey, it’s canceled.’”
Cameron Keel, a junior majoring in communication who is studying abroad in Rome, said she doesn’t believe the situation abroad is severe enough to warrant canceling study abroad programs and has considered staying in Europe through her own financial means even if the University decides to cancel the program.
“There have been talks in our program if [USC] cancels it that we’re just going to get an Airbnb here and stay because the threat is really no greater here than anywhere else in the world,” Keel said. “Besides the issue of the grocery stores running out of food from panic — that’s really the only issue that we see.”
Yu said she and other students have been confused by reports from media outlets about coronavirus because news sources have been approaching its severity in varying degrees. She’s also noticed that locals and tourists in Milan have been reacting to the situation paradoxically.
“If you look outside, people are walking or having fun, but then at the same time, a lot of people are also staying inside and taking precautions — going to the grocery store and stocking up on stuff,” Yu said. “We’re being fed with so many different conflicting news sources … It’s just really hard for us to even judge how we should feel about this whole situation.”
Yu also said the only communication that WBB students have received is University-wide emails from the provost updating the general student body and that she is frustrated by the lack of information provided to the students in affected areas.
“It would have been helpful if [USC] has been updating us specifically, since we are in Italy and we are technically also a USC program,” Yu said. “I feel like they should have had more responsibility. [I am] checking the news, but some people might not be, and so I think it’s really important if they do continue to reach out to us and send these important updates.”
Yu said several of her friends have experienced racism and xenophobic slurs and actions from locals while abroad because of their Asian background.
“One of my friends, he was trying to catch a taxi, and three different people refused service because he was Asian and they thought he was [carrying] the virus,” Yu said. “On the bus [my friends would] hear people next to them saying ‘Cinese, Cinese,’ which means Chinese in Italian, and pointing and covering their mouths. I think it is really important to stay cautious but also … to be educated and not take your judgments so far.”
The University has expressed concerns about harassment related to the virus occurring abroad and on campus through an email to the Daily Trojan. It has advised students to express their concerns by contacting Trojans Care 4 Trojans and Campus Support and Intervention.
In early February, Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, International Student Assembly and Undergraduate Student Government, condemned discrimination against the Asian and Asian American communities on campus in a schoolwide letter. The letter came in response to online xenophobic comments about the coronavirus, which were amplified after false information rapidly spread about a potential case at the Lorenzo Apartments in late January.
“We do not condone any type of discrimination or harassment at USC, and we value every member of the Trojan family,” a University email to the Daily Trojan read. “We are a community that is working together to support each other, identify solutions and provide outstanding care and compassion to all in the midst of this rapidly evolving situation.”
Maria Eberhart, Natalie Oganesyan and Kate Sequeira contributed to this report.