DePaul cancels spring break study abroad trips because of coronavirus concerns

As winter quarter draws to a close, spring break is usually the only thing on students’ minds. But this year, there’s also been something else: coronavirus.

DePaul has canceled all of its upcoming spring break study abroad trips, President A. Gabriel Esteban announced in an email Monday evening.

The university asked students traveling outside of school-affiliated programs to review the Chicago Department of Public Health’s travel guidelines for best practices, including staying at home to monitor their health for up to 14 days.

Sean, a DePaul junior who asked to conceal his last name for personal reasons, is supposed to travel to London over spring break. With coronavirus spreading more rapidly, the university spoke with students about the possibility of cancellation during a pre-trip session, he said.

“I’m not really worried about it getting cancelled but that thought is in the back of my head because of how serious the coronavirus is,” he said. “Other trips have been cancelled, so if DePaul Study Abroad deems it unsafe to travel to London, they will cancel the trip.”

He added that though missing the trip would be disappointing, he’s more concerned about making up lost credits.

“When I asked what would happen if the trip is cancelled, they didn’t really give a direct answer about whether or not students would be able to complete a 4 credit course,” Sean said. “I’ll need these credits to graduate – so I really hope that in the case of cancellation, I’ll still be able to complete the course without the actual travel component.”

For some students, the cancellations of these trips is justified — even if college-aged students in good health are not particularly at risk.

“My trip to India just got cancelled, but I think it’s justified to protect our communities,” said Will Buttrey, a senior at the University of Tennessee.

Sarah Connoly, an associate professor at DePaul who studies viruses, said students can protect themselves from the virus by knowing the facts and adhering to known precautions.

“The key is to remember that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, meaning that you’ll catch it from someone coughing, sneezing or talking,” Connoly said. “You can also catch it from touching a surface those droplets have touched, but only if you touch your face afterward, so remember to wash your hands and distance yourself from those that are visibly ill.”

Connoly said that despite the Twitter ramblings that hand sanitizer doesn’t help protect against the virus, it’s still a solid way to protect yourself.

“I don’t know why people are saying that hand sanitizer doesn’t work; it does,” Connoly said. “As long as you are using a hand sanitizer that is 60 percent alcohol or above, then you should be fine.”

Washing your hands helps too, she said.

For those students who are worried about how the coronavirus will affect them if they caught it, Connoly said not to be worried — at least for yourself.

“You may get sick, you may feel lousy, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to go to the hospital or even less likely die from it,” Connoly said. “The thing younger people should really be concerned about if they do end up catching the virus is spreading it to someone who is more vulnerable to it. The fatality rate for the virus is really low right now, especially for younger people, but it does get higher for people that are older.”

She added that the CDPH and CDC are good resources for information.

The Chicago Department of Health declined to comment for this story, citing an influx of media requests due to the virus.

For students returning from spring break travel in travel alert Level 3, DePaul asks that communication with the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness is abundant.

“It is important to note that CDPH has advised that travelers returning from any country with a travel alert Level 3 should stay home and monitor their health for up to 14 days,” a Public Safety email from the university reads. “If you are traveling or returned from any travel alert Level 3 country on or after February 28, please contact the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness at [email protected] or 773-325-7129 as soon as possible. Absences for this purpose will be excused and alternate arrangements will be made for teleworking and online school assignments, if possible.”

DePaul’s Health Sciences department will be hosting a panel on coronavirus March 11 in McGowan South, Room 107, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. The panel will include DePaul Health Sciences faculty from various sectors of the field.


UPDATE (MARCH 9, 2020, 8:55 p.m.): This story has been updated to reflect the university’s cancellation of all spring break programs.