CUNY, Students and Study Abroad Programs Respond to Coronavirus Threat

The MTA is implementing sanitation measures in response to the virus.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

New York City confirmed six cases of Covid-19, also known as coronavirus, leaving Hunter’s community anxious. Meanwhile, study abroad programs have been suspended, students have returned from China and one email even raised the possibility of classes taking place online. 

Fake news, memes and tension around the disease flood the Hunter College Students Facebook group as updates roll out. Students speculated what preventative actions the college might take, including dealing with sick students on campus and taking sanitation measures.

A rumor about an infected female student was quickly debunked by students who are fed up with the misinformation circulating. “Time to put my public health degree to some use,” posted senior Anusuya Singh. “Please do not believe information meant to propagate fear and hysteria.” She followed up with insight on the disease. Singh says students should be more cautious with the language and words they’re using which can cause panic. 

A recent newsletter to Macaulay students warned them to stay informed with the news around the disease in case of campus closures. It also mentioned the possibility of switching to online classes due to the threat. Yeshiva University, where one student has tested positive for coronavirus, has canceled classes. 

Some New Yorkers are preparing for the outbreak by stocking up on food, hand sanitizer and face masks. For CUNY students it is unclear how the university will handle the possibility of coronavirus becoming a pandemic. 

More than 100 patients tested positive for the respiratory illness in 15 states and nine have died nationwide according to the New York Times. About 80% of cases are mild according to a study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control. The study also showed that the elderly and immunocompromised people are at a higher risk of mortality, whereas people under 60 have under a 2% chance of death. 

In a briefing on Sunday, Governor Cuomo addressed coronavirus concerns. “This isn’t our first rodeo,” he said. “We are fully prepared to deal with the situation as it develops.” He is referring to his strategies of containment, including his goal of mandating 1,000 tests per day, implementing new cleaning protocols in schools and public transportation, focusing on those compromised and setting aside $40 million to fight the disease. 

Cuomo doesn’t expect the outbreak to get bad because he says America has the “best health-care system in the world.” He also announced in a tweet that New York will call for health insurance companies to waive costs associated with testing for Covid-19. 

CUNY suggests students follow advice from the Center for Disease Control including 14-day self-isolation for any individuals who may be at risk after traveling, receiving the flu shot, strict hand-washing and taking preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. 

Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost José Luiz Cruz stated in a CUNY coronavirus update on Feb. 28, that although exposure is low right now, faculty and staff will accomodate any affected students and employees.

Study Abroad Programs

Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, many study abroad programs in high-risk countries are getting cancelled or rerouted around universities in the U.S. including NYU, Syracuse and St. John’s. Currently, China, Italy, South Korea and Iran are under a CDC level 3 warning to avoid all nonessential travel. 

Study abroad and travel to these countries have been suspended CUNY-wide. A press release from the Governor’s office stated that “SUNY and CUNY are making arrangements to bring back all non-essential students, faculty and staff currently studying or working in those countries and begin 14-day quarantine.” The decision was made on Wednesday based on recommendations by the New York State Department of Health.  

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez says, “out of an abundance of caution, we urge our students to accept this invitation to return now, to avoid later complications should circumstances change.” Five Hunter students are currently in Italian cities right now including Florence, Reggio Emilia and Rome.

Coronavirus was also behind the early cancellation of the study abroad program in mainland China for six students in Hunter’s Chinese Flagship program. They returned back to the U.S. from Nanjing, China by Feb. 5 and were unable to complete their year-long program which is usually a requirement for graduation. 

The capstone year consists of studying at Nanjing University for a semester and completing an internship for another semester. “Students were given the opportunity to return [in the future] to complete their internship,” says academic coordinator Bing Ying Hu. “But four out of six students decided to graduate” this spring without completing their internships. 

The decision to cancel their program was made by the Language Flagship Central Office as well as CUNY based on CDC recommendations, says Hu. However, the students in need of credits were still able to register on time for spring classes at Hunter.

“The situation is still developing rapidly,” says Hu. “As of now, the Nanjing program will notify the students by June 1 if the fall 2020 Capstone program will take place.”

Students who applied for Princeton in Beijing, a summer abroad program are suddenly worried about their plans. “We were extremely excited because this program is highly regarded as one of the best Chinese language programs,” says sophomore Eric Dittus. “However, most of us did not apply for internships for the summer because we expected to be going to Beijing.” Now, dozens of students including Dittus are awaiting an answer by April 30.

However, Dittus says the center is “planning a program in Taiwan for the summer for us to attend instead.”

“For students who are interested in studying in South Korea, Italy, and China, we recommend that they choose a back-up location” in case there is a travel advisory for their preferred country, said a Hunter College spokesperson. 

“We are all holding our breath,” says Dittus. 

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