Prioritize student safety amid COVID-19 concerns


Photo: Ally Rzes

By Editorial Board, The Berkeley Beacon

Kasteel Well officials announced on Feb. 24 that they canceled their planned four-day mandatory academic excursion to Milan, Italy, and barred students from traveling outside the Netherlands until March 15 out of concern for the recent spread of COVID-19 in Europe.

Students studying at Kasteel Well expressed their concerns regarding the school’s decision to implement the travel ban and wondered whether or not they would be compensated for the trip. Sophomore Caitlin Johnson said she is frustrated with the Office of Student Affairs and the Emerson administration for the lack of clarity in regards to future traveling and reimbursements.

“[OSA] not having a direct response to our questions about reimbursement felt really shitty,” Johnson said in an interview with The Beacon. “I just wish we had clear answers because we are all freaking out right now about the prospect that we might not be able to travel at all. Now we are being placed in this situation where we are rapidly trying to figure out if we can get our money back.”

Emerson’s official billing website shows that the Milan trip is located within the $2,100 European Travel Package billing. This package covers the costs of the mandatory Amsterdam and Milan excursions and the flying costs to and from the U.S.

In the email, the college said they will schedule additional excursions to make up for the cancelled trip. The date and location of these additional trips will be determined during the week of March 2, according to Kasteel Well’s Official Office of Student Affairs’ email on Monday.

Despite students’ concerns about not being able to travel outside of the Netherlands for their semester, the college took the proper precautions to prioritize students’ safety.

According to a report sent out by the World Health Organization on Feb. 26, Italy has had 93 new cases in just one day, for a total of 322 cases and 11 deaths nationally.

The most affected region of Italy is Lombardy, and The Guardian reported that experts believe one patient, nicknamed “patient-one,” infected at least 13 people. Eleven towns within Lombardy are currently in lockdown, and authorities have told residents to stay home and avoid social contact. In addition to Italy, the virus has also traveled to nearby countries such as Croatia, Switzerland, and Austria, according to France 24.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsure how contagious the virus is, which is why remaining cautious during this time is important. Additionally, the CDC considers the outbreak in Italy a “sustained community spread,” meaning the spread is ongoing, even though experts are unsure of how or where patients were infected. Because of the overall unclear nature of the outbreak, the college is right to put a halt on future travel and place student safety in the first place.

WHO suggests keeping at least 3 feet between yourself and anyone who is sneezing or coughing to prevent inhaling virus-infected droplets. In tourist-infested places such as Milan, this level of distance may be less attainable, especially when students don’t know who could potentially infect them.

While influenza has a far greater magnitude, especially within the U.S., that does not mean COVID-19 should be disregarded entirely. One difference between the flu and COVID-19 is that the latter is potentially airborne, according to Hopkins Medicine, which makes it more difficult to control. This means that infected droplets in the air could infect others, even if the infected person is no longer present. Thus, regardless of its magnitude, COVID-19 is still a serious virus that should be treated as such.

Traveling in an area where the virus continues to grow is unwise and not in students’ best interest. Furthermore, as this cancellation came per the Italian government’s recommendation, students should take this situation even more seriously. Of course, the school needs to consider students’ experiences when studying abroad and they should make sure that it’s a worthy trip. However, in a time when a growing list of US colleges are canceling or rerouting study abroad programs because of COVID-19, the school administration ultimately has to prioritize keeping the students and faculty safe.

Students are right to be concerned about their cancelled trips and lost money, and we hope that the college will further address students’ concerns. However, safety–not travel–should be everyone’s priority at this time.