Butler University suspends university travel to Italy following coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus causes Butler University to suspend travel to Italy. Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com. 

KATIE FREEMAN | STAFF REPORTER | kmfreema@butler.edu

Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, Butler University is suspending all university travel to Italy until further notice. This announcement followed the Center for Disease Control’s recent recommendation to avoid non-essential travel to the country, which has been issued a level three travel advisory — the CDC’s highest possible advisory.

According to Italy’s Civil Protection Authority, there have been 1,694 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 34 confirmed deaths as of March 1.

Butler has strongly recommended that students abroad in Italy return home. Students who choose to return home will be required to self-quarantine away from campus for 14 days before returning to Butler.

Erin Pushic, a junior marketing major, flew home from studying abroad in Florence on March 2 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I just didn’t really feel safe there anymore,” Pushic said. “It was like, empty. All the other study abroad programs had been sent home. I think my program was like the last one left so like, going out at night, the bars, clubs were empty, the streets were empty, no one was visiting anymore. It just felt really weird.”

Pushic said that Wells College will be honoring her credits and she will finish her classes online. She plans to stay home for the remainder of the semester and potentially travel the U.S. with the money she has leftover from studying abroad — but she said she was really upset about the situation because she had been looking forward to a semester abroad since she started college.

“I’m still kind of an emotional wreck,” Pushic said. “My heart — my heart’s broken, but it was for my safety, so it’s nothing any of us can control. It’s obviously a crazy circumstance.”

The U.S. Department of State has issued a level four travel advisory to the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy, as they are located in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. A level four, the highest level advisory the U.S. Department of State can issue, advises U.S. citizens not to travel to those regions.

Ruthie Miller, a junior arts administration major, is currently studying abroad through the IES program in Milan, which is located in the Lombardy region. Miller’s classes have been moved online until further notice, at the request of Milan’s mayor and the Italian government.

“My main thing is I just don’t want to be sent home,” Miller said. “And that’s kind of like what’s on everyone’s mind because we’re seeing, you know, other programs in other cities and stuff where that’s happening.”

One of Milan’s biggest attractions, the La Scala opera house, was closed on Feb. 25 until March 8. Additionally, Miller said that many restaurants and bars have closed or have shortened their hours since the outbreak began, so she usually goes out earlier in the day.

“I try to get out once a day and do something outside,” Miller said. “We were given masks by our program, and honestly, you only really have to wear them in heavily populated areas and on public transportation.”

Butler is strongly recommending that all students, faculty and staff avoid further personal travel to any country with a CDC level three travel advisory. Those who choose to do so may be subject to a health assessment and a required 14-day quarantine period upon return to the country.

Kinsey Paulson, a junior strategic communication major, recently canceled her spring break trip to Milan to visit Miller and two other friends due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We didn’t want to risk going there,” Paulson said. “One, getting sick; two, possibly getting quarantined and having to stay in Milan for who knows how long; and also, just a lot of things there are closed now and public transportation isn’t running as regularly just due to the lack of people using it because of the coronavirus.”

Paulson said she was disappointed to cancel her trip, as the group had been looking forward to this trip for a long time.

Several U.S. universities, including Syracuse University and New York University, have decided to cancel their study abroad programs in Florence, Italy and are sending students home. Local Indiana universities such as Purdue University and Indiana University have suspended travel to Italy and other countries listed at Level 2 or 3 risk. 

Erin Neis, a junior psychology and political science major, is currently studying abroad in Florence at Wells College.

“I went to a few of my classes today,” Neis said. “I normally have like 15 people. Today, there were only six.”

Neis said that while many Americans in Italy are concerned with the coronavirus outbreak, the majority of Italian natives are not. Neis also said many businesses in Florence are operating regularly, but that many stores are out of hand sanitizer, masks and gloves.

“Obviously, the situation is concerning, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Neis said. “I’m not going to let it slip through my fingers because of fear.”

Butler said in a recent email announcement that the university is continuing to communicate with local and state health departments and monitor guidance from the CDC to keep track of how the outbreak might affect campus.

The university’s incident response team is meeting regularly to develop action plans for a variety of possible scenarios following a warning from the CDC to prepare for the coronavirus in the U.S., according to the email.

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