JMU students returning home from Italy as coronavirus spreads

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — James Madison University students studying abroad in Italy are returning back to the U.S. after the university canceled the remainder of their study abroad program as COVID-19 continues to spread.

James Madison University students studying in Italy were advised to return back to the United States as the coronavirus spreads throughout the world.

Based on guidance from the CDC, the US State Department and foreign governments, the university has made a number of changes to their programs operating abroad currently and in the upcoming semester.

"We look at academic impact, we look at the students' frame of movement, what's going on in the countries that they're supposed to be in, and most importantly, we look at their safety and the safety of our faculty, staff and the greater Harrisonburg community in making those decisions," Caitlyn Read, interim university spokesperson, said.

Read said the university covered the airfare costs to get students home from Florence, Italy, as soon as possible, but when they get back, they're asked to not return to campus or off-campus housing.

"We don't have any students who are returning from Italy that have on-campus housing, so it will just be our students who are returning to off-campus housing," Read said. "We are really encouraging them for the good of the greater community to consider staying at home and out of those on- or off-campus housing complexes."

Read said they are advising the 44 students plus additional faculty and staff members to adhere to the CDC guidelines of a self-imposed quarantine for the length of the disease's 14-day incubation period.

Read said the students returning home will be able to complete their abroad coursework online.

"They will earn the associated credits with that classwork," Read said. "The university administration is looking at reimbursing some of those special fees that they would've paid to go abroad."

Read says they made the tough decision to cancel a handful of future abroad programs too.

"We have been looking at each of our programs figuring out contingencies," Read said. "We recently did cancel a spring break trip to Japan for our MBA students, as well as two short-term programs to China that were slated to happen this summer."

Decisions on if future summer programs will continue as planned will be made in the upcoming weeks.

"These decisions certainly weren't made lightly," Read said. "We weighed a lot of factors and a lot of considerations, but ultimately paramount in that decision-making is safety, security and health of our community."

Read said their programs will continue operating in nations deemed "low risk" by the CDC, like the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain, and the university will continue to monitor outbreaks.