As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the globe, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended state college study abroad programs in five countries on March 4 and on March 11, announced that state colleges would continue the spring semester online.
Cuomo suspended study abroad programs in China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea, for all SUNYs and City Universities of New York (CUNY). Each nation was issued a Level 2 or Level 3 travel notice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The SUNY and CUNY systems are currently working to bring back all “non-essential” faculty and students studying abroad and putting them under a 14-day quarantine before returning to the college campuses.
At 1:45 p.m. on March 11, Cuomo cancelled in-person classes and said that classes would continue remotely starting March 19. In response at 5:44 p.m. SUNY New Paltz sent an email to students to finalize how the college will manage the weeks after spring break.
Additionally, the SUNY New Paltz campus is preparing for how to handle moving classes to online.
President Donald P. Christian announced that SUNY New Paltz’s spring break will be extended by an additional week and classes will resume on March 30.
However, the New Paltz campus will remain open along with the residence halls to “accommodate special circumstances, students in need of housing and hands-on laboratory course work.”
“It’s important that facts outweigh fear, and the reality is we are getting the testing done, getting the information out and deploying healthcare resources to treat people who need it, so I am reminding New Yorkers that there is no reason for undue anxiety and the general risk remains low in New York,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.
The virus broke out in China during December of 2019 and since has spread to approximately 82 countries. As of March 3, it has infected 90,893 globally and 80 people in the U.S. Symptoms of the virus include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, which can occur two to 14 days after exposure. In New York State, the virus has already reached 216 residents.
SUNY New Paltz announced, on March 4, that all campus-sponsored and official campus international travel for faculty, staff and students were canceled. Additionally, all New Paltz students traveling abroad, or who have recently returned, home have access to a 24/7 virtual mental health counseling service.
Since Gov. Cuomo’s cancelation, a petition to reinstate SUNY study abroad programs with the option to return home emerged. The petition was started by a SUNY New Paltz student studying abroad in Japan and has received 82 signatures.The petition says it is “too far into the semester” to enroll in classes on campus and the return of students abroad may put the U.S. and the community at risk. It mentioned how some students abroad have contracts for dormitories, apartments and cell phone companies that they cannot break.
Erin Hannan, a fourth-year digital media management major, studied abroad in Florence, Italy during the spring 2019 semester. Hannan believes that the students abroad and their parents should decide whether they should return home.
“I understand why SUNY study abroad students are being asked to come home if they are in high risk areas,” Hannan said. “However, there are already multiple cases in New York and I believe at this point the odds of you coming into contact with it will not be very different if they remained abroad.”
Director of Communication at SUNY New Paltz Melissa Kaczmarek said that the college is working to accommodate “disruptions to students’ academic programs for those returning home from study abroad programs.” Kaczmarek explained that the college is working with students who are returning home to “mitigate financial impacts.”
Gabrielle Vultaggio, a third-year studying communications with a concentration in public relations, has returned from studying abroad in Italy on Tuesday, March 3.
Vultaggio said that she is currently taking her classes online for the rest of the semester and that her professors abroad are uploading their lessons and changing the syllabi to account for the time difference.
“I do feel like coming home was the right thing to do,” Vultaggio said. “There was so much confusion and uncertainty about the virus and how to handle it that it became very overwhelming being in a foreign country and away from home.”
According to a prepared statement from Cuomo, 80% of people who get the virus in the U.S. will become healthy naturally and may not even notice it. Out of people who contract the virus, 20% could become ill. The CDC reported that COVID-19’s lethality rate is at 1.4% — which is double the normal flu rate — among senior citizens, people with compromised immune systems and people with underlying illness.