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Area colleges calling their overseas students home as coronavirus spreads

MIke Desmond

Canisius College is calling home its two dozen students who are studying around the world because of the coronavirus.

College President John Hurley said Canisius is aware of what can happen on a campus, because around 100 students were infected in the 2009 H1N1 flu virus pandemic.

As with many schools, the college is calling for the students to leave areas with heavy novel coronavirus incidence, like Italy, where all schools and universities will be closed for two weeks to control the outbreak. Hurley said getting the students home creates some academic problems.

"If we controlled the site abroad, we would close down the program and send them home. In fact, some of our Jesuit university peers have that situation and have done just that," he said. "But their arrangement is of a more contractual nature with a separate school in that country. So we're in touch with them and recommending that they come home and we we're working to facilitate that if they do."

Hurley said it is up to the students to figure out how to get home, presumably using the return half of the ticket used to get overseas. Student Affairs Vice President Daniel Dentino said the college is also keeping in touch with the two dozen students as far away as Australia.

"We've sent a number of emails to keep them in the loop on what's happening and we've also talked to all their parents," Dentino said. "We've received responses from two students so far. Both students have indicated they would prefer to remain where they're at. The parents that I've spoken with - and I've talked to a number of our parents - are kind of deferring to their sons and daughters right now in terms of where they're at overseas."

The college is also investigating putting classes online if the COVID-19 virus hits and how to handle running a campus if some students come down with the virus. Hurley said the college really doesn't have quarantine facilities on campus if the virus hits.

"That's a concern and I think members of our faculty want us to err on the side of caution and protect them, as well," he said. "So there are a lot of competing concerns here. It's a diverse place, with a lot of people walking around, an open campus, and you can't obviously test everyone who walks in the door."

Other area colleges with international students are evaluating their response to a coronavirus outbreak. Daemen College issued the following statement Tuesday:

"As a leader in health sciences education, Daemen College is utilizing the expertise of its faculty and staff members to closely monitor developments in the rapidly evolving nature of the novel coronavirus. The college is using its existing emergency preparedness and response mechanisms to take proactive and preventive measures to help ensure the health of the campus community, including conducting table top exercises as part of its emergency response plan, sending communications to the community in preparation for spring break travel, monitoring study abroad trips, and more. Daemen is following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, as well as professional organizations within higher education.  We have plans outlined if there is a suspected or confirmed case and procedures for responding and communicating as needed."

Daemen said there are no known cases of coronavirus in the Daemen community as of this date. As the situation develops, the college will determine if study-abroad programs will continue.

At the College at Brockport, spokesperson John Follaco released this statement last week:

"We are closely monitoring the situation and are in regular communication with students in our study abroad programs and our partner institutions. The health and safety of our students is our highest priority. We will continue to follow and inform students of the Department of State and CDC recommendations and take actions as appropriate."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.