Coronavirus: Increasing cases in Italy lead to closure of KSU Florence

Kent State students sit in a meeting in Florence about how the coronavirus will affect their study abroad semester.

Lauren Sasala Managing editor

Correction: In the original article it stated Sara Morato was the CCI study abroad advising coordinator, however she is the assistant director for education abroad. Additionally, it said she was a part of the meeting with Florence students Sunday, March 1 and was quoted in the article. However, it was Sarah Malcolm, executive director for the Office of Global Education who helped lead the meeting with Amber Cruxton.

Also in the original article, Amber Cruxton was listed as the assistant director for education abroad, but she is the director of education abroad.

The article has been updated to reflect this information.

Kent State students studying abroad in Florence will be returning home due to the increase of the coronavirus crisis in Italy.

The university is booking flights back to the U.S. for students and covering the cost of the return flights, Amber Cruxton, assistant director for education abroad, said during a meeting with Florence students Sunday morning.

Students were told to be packed and ready to leave Monday morning at the earliest but flight details are still being arranged and some students may not leave until later in the week.

“We are arranging for all of you to return home as soon as we can get you home,” Cruxton said.

According to CNN, Italy reported a 50 percent increase in coronavirus cases Sunday, as the U.S. further restricted travel. 

The Centers for Disease Control issued a Level 3 warning and recommends travelers avoid all “nonessential travel” to Italy, as there is limited access to adequate medical care in the affected areas. The State Department issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Lombardy and Veneto “due to the level of community transmission of the virus and imposition of local quarantine procedures.”

Italy’s Civil Protection Authority reported the country now has 1,694 confirmed coronavirus cases, up from 1,128 confirmed cases on Saturday. Thirty-four people have died. Italy has the most coronavirus cases of any country outside of Asia.

Lois Mallet, junior fashion merchandising major, said the announcements of the students were being sent home came as a surprise. 

“[The university] made it seem like we weren’t going to get sent home … but maybe that could’ve just been me trying to convince myself that we weren’t,” Mallet said.

Cruxton told students local health departments are requiring a 14-day self-isolation for those coming home. Students are prohibited from stepping foot on Kent’s U.S. campuses during this time. Attending classes or working will not be permitted. 

“I work at the school as a student employee … I wasn’t planning on working as it was, I was supposed to be in Florence until May, so we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation and maybe going back to work in April,” Nathan Loveless, sophomore computer engineering tech major, said.

While face-to-face classes in Florence are being transferred to an online format, some studio classes for architecture and fashion students require time in-person and arrangements are not known at this time. 

Classes based in Florence are canceled for the week to allow students time to arrive back home and arrange plans for the rest of the semester.  

Some students are enrolled in online classes based out of the Kent campus and those will not be canceled.

During the 14-day isolation period, students are advised to check their temperatures daily and seek medical advice immediately if it exceeds 100.4 degrees or if they experience any symptoms of respiratory illness.

However, due to the highly contagious nature of coronavirus, Sarah Malcolm, executive director for the Office of Global Education, said students should first call a medical professional to tell them of their recent travels in Italy before going to an emergency room. 

After the 14-day isolation period, students will be allowed to return to campus and if needed, can sign up for on-campus housing for a prorated price. 

The details of pricing and financial aid options are still being worked out, Morato said. 

Mallet said her biggest concern is the financial impact of being sent home and not knowing if any refunds will be given.

“We’re working on determining what the refund would look like, we are absolutely aware that there’s field trips you’re not going on. There are different activities that you cannot participate in. We recognize there’s a month and a half of housing that you’re not going to be using. So we understand that you all are looking for a refund for the services that you’re not going to be receiving. And again, we’re working on that,” Cruxton said during the meeting Sunday.

Loveless said his concerns have less to do with getting sick, and more to do with struggling with language barriers.

“We can’t speak Italian, can’t read Italian signs,” Loveless said. The inability to follow instructions during these circumstances can induce panic to students in a foreign country. “I’ve been sick before. Things are getting weird just with people.”

Florence, being one of the areas of Italy least affected by the coronavirus, is still in fair shape. Grocery stores and restaurants are maintaining business. However, shops that depend on tourism for income are marking prices down as much as 50 percent, while other storefronts have shut down completely. 

“I was in a leather shop today … by the time I was walking out a man was trying to sell a $180 bag to me for $60,” Loveless said.

Mallet said the worst part about leaving is not having the chance to travel and take all the trips she planned, especially London. 

“There were places in Florence where I was like ‘Oh, I’ll see it later, I’ll have time’ and there’s still so many places in the city that I hadn’t seen yet. That’s kind of upsetting,” Mallet said. 

There are zero cases of coronavirus documented so far in Ohio.

CNN contributed to this report.

Jordan Audia contributed to this report.

Contact Lauren Sasala at [email protected]