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Bowdoin students abroad face challenges in wake of coronavirus outbreak

February 28, 2020

Though COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, hasn’t reached Bowdoin’s campus and only 60 cases have been confirmed in the country compared to the 83,300 cases globally, the virus has affected the lives of several Bowdoin students studying abroad.

Niles Singer ’21, who is on the Hamilton in France program, is halfway through a two-week isolation period in his host family’s house in Paris following a week-long vacation to Venice and Florence.

Along with Iran and South Korea, Italy is one of the countries most heavily affected by the coronavirus outside of China. It has had 655 confirmed cases of the virus and 17 deaths. The day Singer left Italy, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a travel alert for the country. On February 26 the U.S. State Department issued a Level Two Travel Advisory for Italy, urging travelers to exercise increased caution.

Though he feels “as healthy as ever,” Singer has obeyed the voluntary quarantine recommended by the French government.

“When we got back on Monday, the director of our program pulled [me] aside, as well as … 10 [other] members of my program who went to Italy, and effectively told us that we’re going to do a two-week quarantine based on the suggestion of the French Minister of Health,” Singer said.

Six Bowdoin students are currently studying in Italy, though none are in areas that have been most affected by the virus such as Milan or Venice.

Sydney Reaper ’21 is studying at the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence. In an email to the Orient, she wrote that SACI has extended its spring break by an extra week in response to the outbreak. She will return to Florence on March 16 after spending her spring break in the United Kingdom.

“Anyone from my school that is going home back to the U.S. seems to be doing so for their own peace of mind and for their parents, not because of [SACI’s] recommendation,” Reaper said.

Holly Lyne ’21, who is also studying at SACI Florence, wrote in an email that most students at the school are not leaving for break given that Florence has not been identified as a high-risk zone. However, Lyne and her family decided Thursday that she would fly home this morning. The current plan is for her to return on March 23.

According to Director of Off-Campus Study and International Programs Christine Wintersteen, programs which Bowdoin students are enrolled in have not been suspended. However, some have taken measures to reduce the risk of infection, such as allowing students to work remotely.

Director of Health Services Jeffrey Maher said he would not be surprised if more students decide to return home as the virus continues to spread. According to Wintersteen, the students that leave their programs mid-semester will return home, not to Bowdoin.

Kathy Thorson, Bowdoin’s travel consultant in Health Services, said that students returning from countries at Alert Level Two such as Japan and Italy, will not be isolated.

Even as the virus spreads across the globe, the message from Thorson and Maher is the same: “Wash your hands.”

Emily Cohen contributed to this report.

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