Wisconsin students head home on coronavirus concerns

University of Wisconsin-Stout officials will send home two students who are studying in Italy after federal health officials late Friday raised the outbreak warning level for the coronavirus in that country.

UW-Stout spokesman Doug Mell said the university made the decision to return the students to the U.S. after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel advisory level from 2 to 3.

“We are working now to bring two students in Italy home,” Mell said.

Most UW schools have established the CDC’s Level 3 warning as the standard for canceling study abroad programs. That standard recommends all non-essential personnel to avoid travel to nations thought to be at high risk of pandemic.

Earlier this week, the CDC designated South Korea as a Level 3 site. This prompted the move to send students in that country home.

China, where the coronavirus originated, previously was listed as a Level 3 site.

The decision by UW-Stout to bring home two students studying in Italy comes on the heels of universities across Wisconsin canceling study abroad programs in South Korea earlier this week because of pandemic concerns also related to the coronavirus.

Five UW-Stout students attending programs in South Korea were back in the U.S. or on their way home Friday, Mell said.

UW-Stout officials “have been monitoring the situation closely for the past few weeks,” Mell said.

At UW-Madison, five students studying at Yonsei and Korea universities in Seoul will leave those programs and return home. Likewise, two UW-Milwaukee students are scheduled to return from South Korea. 

Students at other Wisconsin universities and colleges studying in South Korea are being sent home, too. 

Those actions follow the cancellation of programs in China, which were cancelled earlier this year because of fears about an outbreak of the virus.

Government warnings in Japan could prompt universities to return home additional students participating in university-sponsored programs home, university officials said. 

Four UW-Eau Claire students have been asked to return home, and another student scheduled to travel there next week has been told to remain here.

According to a statement sent Friday from the office of Colleen Marchwick, director of the university’s Center for International Education, university officials “made the difficult decision” to cancel study abroad programs in South Korea this semester after the CDC issued its Level 3 warning. 

“Our four students already in South Korea have been asked to return to the United States, and we will be tracking each student’s departure and arrival to ensure they arrive safely,” the statement reads.  

University staff will work with students “to support their transition back to the United States,” according to the statement.

Most UW schools have established the CDC’s Level 3 warning as the standard for canceling programs. That standard all non-essential personnel to avoid travel to nations thought to be at high risk of a pandemic.

The CDC added South Korea to that list this week, prompting the move to send students in that country home.

More countries could receive Level 3 designations if the outbreak spreads. Travelers to Japan and Iran, where coronavirus is spreading in significant numbers, are encouraged to “practice enhanced precautions.” Those nations currently are at Level 2.   

Students planning to travel to those countries later this semester could still do so for now, but those travel plans could change if coronavirus levels climb there and reach a Level 3 designation. For instance, at UW-Eau Claire, 12 students are scheduled to travel to Italy this spring. 

“In light of the unpredictability of the spread of COVID-19 worldwide, UW-Eau Claire continues to monitor travel alerts and advisories and follow the advisement of local, regional and national public health experts,” the statement from Marchwick reads.

The coronavirus causes a disease called COVID-19, a flu-like respiratory infection. Public health officials have said the virus typically kills 1 percent or fewer of people infected. 

The disease is spread easily, much like the flu, public health experts said. It has been compared to the flu, which is much more of a threat in Wisconsin since it is already present here. Fourteen confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported in the U.S, with one positive case in Wisconsin.