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Universities keeping close watch over study abroad programs amid coronavirus outbreak

Posted at 12:09 PM, Feb 26, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has seemed like it was a world away for people in the United States, but now for students studying abroad, the virus has become more of a focus.

In Tennessee, few universities have study abroad programs to China, but many have programs to other parts of the world, including Lipscomb University, which has eleven students in Florence, Italy.

“Their daily life has not been impacted," University spokesperson Kim Chaudoin said following news of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy.

Italian officials have reported at least 300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy, with at least 10 deaths reported, and that has led Lipscomb officials to pay extra attention to the outbreak in Italy with their students in the same country.

That monitoring is nothing new, though, as most universities including Lipscomb constantly monitor any health issues, terrorist activity, or natural disasters abroad wherever their students are.

“We always are monitoring that very closely. We have a risk manager, as most universities do," Chaudoin explained. "Part of that individuals job is to stay on top of situations like this.”

Lipscomb's risk manager has been in constant contact with the U.S. State Department and international organizations on the ground in Italy and relaying the information to other university officials.

At this time, the students have been reminded to use good personal hygiene and the university is restricting their free travel while abroad to areas that have been impacted by coronavirus.

The university started taking steps prior to the students leaving in January, sending them to Italy with hand sanitizer and face masks.

“We just thought that was a good thing to send them with just in case it was difficult to find those in Europe," Chaudoin said. “You never know the course that this virus will take, and things can change dramatically one way or the other in just a few hours.”

Chaudoin said the top priority for the school is ensuring the safety of the students abroad, and at this time, the students are in a safe place with no coronavirus activity, and moving forward, they plan to continue to keep both the students and their families in the loop about any updates.

“It’s such a great thing for your student to be able to travel abroad, but it also, as a parent, is very concerning when you’re thousands of miles away and you hear these stories on the news and you’re not really sure how close they are to your student and what the real impact is.”

This story was originally published by Jesse Knutson at WTVF.