UNCW cancels Europe spring break trips after N.C. patients test positive for COVID-19

Jacob Sawyer, Staff Writer

UNC Wilmington has suspended all study-abroad programs to Europe following the confirmation of North Carolina’s first cases of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

The first patient, of Wake County, had recently traveled from Washington State, where the illness has claimed 10 lives and caused 70 infections. On March 6, a second North Carolinian tested positive for the virus. The man is from Chatham County and had traveled late last month to Italy, where he began experiencing flu-like symptoms. Both patients, who were not identified, are isolated in their homes and not in serious condition.

A press release assured that the diagnosis was an “isolated case” and advised North Carolinians to take the same precautions that work against the cold and flu, including hand-washing, not touching the face and covering coughs and sneezes. More serious action, such as social distancing and avoiding handshakes, has not been requested at this time.

“The health and well-being of North Carolinians is my top priority, and I’m working to make sure Congress comes together on a bipartisan basis to provide billions of dollars in federal assistance to combat the coronavirus and protect North Carolinians,” said Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). “I’m in close communication with Vice President Pence and other federal leaders, and I will do everything I can to continue supporting our state’s medical institutions, universities and health care systems, which are some of the best in the world and have a proven track record in treating infectious diseases.”

On Feb. 29, the university canceled all excursions to Italy, where the virus has killed at least 100 and sickened at least 3,000 more as of March 5. Schools and universities in the country have been ordered shuttered until March 15. Checkpoints have been set up on roads leading to at-risk towns in Northern Italy, where the virus is most rampant. Other localities in the region are under total lockdown.

 The Italian Ministry of Health has warned all seniors as well as anyone with chronic medical conditions to stay home as much as possible; the remainder of the population has been advised to limit time in public, avoid large crowds and refrain from handshaking.

“None of us can be sure about the future evolution of the disease. This is an important week to understand what will happen,” Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, told a news conference Tuesday. 

UNCW announced the cancellations in an email on March 3. The message also said that students studying abroad in Italy were returned home and required to self-quarantine off-campus for fourteen days. A total of eighty-five students had plans to study abroad in Europe over spring break and will be reimbursed.

“We have notified the students affected and are working on finalizing program fee and travel refunds as applicable,” it read. “These are not easy decisions, and we understand the distress they cause for our students and faculty. We are doing the best we can to make the decisions that will protect our community as a whole. But we know that doesn’t lessen the disappointment at all. We regret that very much.”

Students will not face disciplinary action for non-university-sponsored travel to the affected areas. However, any student returning from Warning Level 3 countries, or those to which the CDC advises against nonessential travel, will need to self-quarantine for fourteen days upon re-entering the United States. The destinations on the list are Italy, Iran, South Korea and China; however, the special Chinese territories of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not included as of March 5.

The novel virus has infected a total of 98,088 victims, 3,356 of them who have since died, as of March 6, 2020 00:15 GMT (19:15 Eastern Time).