UW cancels trips to China, South Korea because of coronavirus

CASPER — The University of Wyoming has canceled summer study abroad trips to China and South Korea in light of coronavirus outbreaks in those two countries as part of a wave of preparations undertaken by the university.

In messages sent to campus Friday, the university wrote that the school “needs to be prepared should some students, staff and faculty on our campus be ill or under quarantine in the coming weeks and months.”

No case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has been confirmed in Wyoming. There have been 423 confirmed cases across 35 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neighboring states Colorado and Utah have both had cases, as has Nebraska; a hospital there has also treated patients who contracted the illness elsewhere.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can cause symptoms that range from minor to severe. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath and cough. According to the CDC, symptoms may appear up to two weeks after contact with an infected person. The federal agency urges anyone with symptoms who may have come into contact with a COVID-19 patient to call their health care provider immediately. Generally, people should wash their hands frequently and well and should avoid contact with sick people.

UW wrote to staff that university-related travel to several countries “requires express pre-approval from the university president.” Any staff or students returning from China, South Korea, Italy or Iran — four countries with the most severe outbreaks — must “self-isolate for 14 days.” Similarly, any person who’s been in contact with someone with COVID-19 or who has similar symptoms should also self-isolate.

The university also instructed all instructors to prepare for their classes to continue running should a teacher become sick or need to be quarantined. Gradebooks must be kept updated and processes to turn in final papers must be prepared. Attendance policies may be loosened as students call in sick.

In a separate message to staff sent early last week, university leadership said it was preparing “detailed pre-travel safety considerations” for students about to leave for spring break, “identification of residence hall quarantine areas to use if needed” and a review of university events.

Chad Baldwin, the university’s spokesman, said the school was preparing in case it had to move all coursework online.

Baldwin said the university feels it has the infrastructure to handle the case, citing its close relationship with Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie.

COVID-19 has spread rapidly in recent days, with Italy restricting movement throughout the country and Saudi Arabia cutting off air and sea travel to several other countries. In the U.S., four states have declared emergencies, and the stock market cratered.

According to the New York Times, the number of cases in the U.S. rose by roughly 50 percent over the weekend.

The University of Washington moved its classes online, as have Seattle University and Northeastern University, according to the Times. Stanford University announced late last week that it wouldn’t hold in-person classes for the indefinite future. A Vanderbilt University student tested positive after a study abroad trip to Italy.

According to a Monday press release, the state Health Department is urging people to remain vigilant and to take care of themselves.

“We believe it’s likely the disease will spread to this state at some point, but do not yet know how widespread the illness will be over time after it does arrive,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, the state’s health officer. “In Wyoming, travelers to certain locations with high numbers of reported cases and close contacts of ill people are at the highest risk.”

“One thing we are NOT recommending is the use of facemasks as a general preventive measure,” Harrist wrote. The press release states that the CDC does not recommend healthy people wear facemasks.

“Facemasks should be used by people who are ill to help prevent spread. Facemasks are also important for health workers and others taking care of infected people,” the department said.