Study abroad canceled due to COVID-19

Carly Davis

International & Off-Campus Programming canceled spring semester trips to China, South Korea and Japan on March 4.

The decision was made by students registered for the trip, the registrar’s office and other faculty and staff groups in a meeting.

“These are decisions that can never be made alone. This office can never be the one that is always making that decision.” Dr. Pedro Bidegaray, director of international and off-campus programs said.

“We decided to cancel the Japan program because we thought that it was an unnecessary risk to take, so we decided to prevent something before anything could happen,” Bidegaray said.

Augustana monitors the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) around the Quad Cities and looks to prevent any spread of the illness on campus.

All IlIllinois cases of coronavirus are quarantined in Cook County. One Missouri case traveled by Amtrak from Chicago to St. Louis, avoiding the Quad Cities.

The Dean of Students Office sent out emails on Feb. 27 and March 2 regarding disease prevention and will continue to update campus through a web page available on the Augustana website.

According to the March 2 email, the college will have a task force to consider Augustana’s future steps in reacting to the Coronavirus. It will be chaired by Dr. Wes Brooks, Dean of Students and General Counsel Sheri Curran.

There were seven confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois as of March 8, according to the Chicago Tribune. Eight have been reported in Iowa, seven of which are in Jackson County near Iowa City, and the other one case in Pottawattomie County on the western border of the state.

However, while there remain no cases close to Augustana, the school is concerned for students traveling abroad through school programs.

Students who planned to go on the canceled trips were given information for summer and fall programs.

Some students may participate in other programs and keep their money in their accounts for future opportunities. Others may have it refunded at a future time.

Still, many students had high hopes for their study-away.

“The university I wanted to go to, they don’t do fall programs typically,” junior Meghan Gove said. “And I wanted to be here to graduate, so it’s difficult to think through exactly what I want to do.”

Gove and four other Augustana students planned on departing for Japan on March 20, but the trip was cancelled.

“Knowing what I know, I probably wouldn’t go now,” Gove said. “From what I’ve heard, the city of Tokyo is basically shut down.”

Augustana is looking at international travel on a case-by-case basis for all future decisions regarding the cancelation of  programs.

Countries that are considered a “3” on the CDC’s health risk scale aren’t considered safe for travel. The scale goes from 1-3, 3 being considered an emergency level.

However, Bidegaray warned that it isn’t that simple. Half of the reported cases in Illinois were contracted from contact with people traveling abroad rather than the travel itself.

“You need to be extra vigilant about your decisions because sometimes it isn’t related to a country,” Bidegaray said.

He also asked that students traveling outside of the country for personal reasons communicate with Augustana so that the school can make educated decisions about study away groups going forward.

“It’s important that we know what is happening,” Bidegaray said. “Especially in these specific conditions where people can become inadvertently carriers.”