Students in Florence ‘doing okay’ as coronavirus spreads in Italy


Photo provided by Lindsey Rasmussen

Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief

The two students studying abroad in Florence, Italy, have not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak that is spreading in the north of the country. The Office of International Education (OIE) so far does not consider urging the students to return to the U.S.

Students Lindsey Rasmussen and Joshua McMaster traveled to Italy in January to spend their semester abroad. Recently, the European country has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus with 453 people infected, 12 deaths and three recoveries as of Feb. 26, according to data by the John Hopkins University.

Although Italy confirmed one case of coronavirus in Florence on Tuesday, there is no state of emergency in the city or Tuscany and schools and other facilities have not closed, said Deborah Wilson-Allam, executive director at the OIE.

The novel coronavirus has spread in northern Italy and in cities like Milan, Verona, Modena and Venice. Florence is not one of the cities that is affected but authorities recommended taking precautionary measures.

“Florence University of Arts, where our students are studying, has advised students not to travel outside of the Tuscany region at this time and they have canceled all field learning outside of the Tuscany region,” she said.

On Tuesday, other U.S. institutions such as Syracuse University and New York University announced the suspension of their study-abroad programs in Florence and are calling their students to return to the U.S.

Wilson-Allam and Director of Emergency Management Shad Crowe said they are closely monitoring news reports and following updates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). They are also in touch with the two students in Italy and with their families and will continue to update, Wilson-Allam said. 

With this, the director of the OIE said the institution in Florence is handling the situation “with great professionalism and a level ahead.”

“They (FUA) have contingency plans in place and know exactly what they will do if there should be an outbreak in Florence,” Wilson-Allam said. “They have guaranteed that the students will be able to complete their coursework ultimately through an online platform if necessary.”

Recently, the CDC stated that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to spread around the world and communities in the U.S. are starting to prepare for a “potential” spread of COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There is still no vaccine against the flu-like disease and “no medications approved to treat it.” The CDC recommended taking “non pharmaceutical” precautions such as staying at home when sick, washing hands and coughing and sneezing into the elbow. These measures are also the same ones to prevent the flu from spreading. 

Despite being difficult to intercept the spreading of the coronavirus, Crowe said, the flu affects more people in the world and more people die nationally from it than from the new virus.

“The flu right now is far more dangerous than the coronavirus,” he said. “The (flu) numbers are staggering.”

According to the CDC, the flu has killed 14,000 people and infected 26 million during this flu season only. Similarly, the coronavirus is especially dangerous for certain risk groups, according to the CDC, which are people over 65 years old, young children, pregnant women and the immunocompromised.

Crowe explained that the areas where the coronavirus has spread are big metropolitan areas with international airports. 

“I think they just weren’t prepared for it so trying to find a treatment would take so long to produce,” he said.

With this, Wilson-Allam said she would not discourage people from traveling.

“I would suggest not changing any long term plans on the basis of the outbreak and to pay attention to the guidance of the CDC, WHO and other authorities,” Wilson-Allam said. “I hope that people won’t become too frightened to travel to other countries. There are always risks inherent to international travel but I believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Senior Joshua McMaster said he is doing “alright” and he tries to keep up with the news about the virus. He described the situation in Tuscany to be “not that chaotic” since the virus has not spread there.

“Honestly, the situation is not bad in Florence,” he said. “Yes, many people are worried about the virus and a lot less people are seen now but they are still living their daily lives.”

However, people in Florence are still taking precautions to prevent the spreading of the virus, McMaster said.

“The local authorities are keeping everyone updated on the virus so that we are well informed and not worrying about what will happen next,” he explained.

McMaster also said he is not sure about how the outbreak will develop in the future since the coronavirus shows the same symptoms as the flu, making it difficult to identify new cases.

“I think the virus will continue to spread but I feel as though a vaccine, solution will be created to diminish the outbreak,” McMaster said.

Junior Lindsey Rasmussen has been studying abroad in Florence since January and said she has already been contacted by Wilson-Allam and her university in Italy saying although classes will not be canceled, field learning activities, which involve taking students to different areas in Italy, will not take place as a way to prevent the spreading of the virus. 

Rasmussen said that Florence “is not bad” because the major epicenter of the outbreak is in northern Italy but stated that “just because Florence isn’t northern Italy doesn’t mean action is being taken.”

“Florence is a huge tourist city and thousands of American students are here this semester to study abroad so it’s pretty populated,” Rasmussen said. “There is an Italian Red Cross tent outside of a local hospital and many people are wearing masks.”

Rasmussen said that despite the news about the further spreading of the virus, her daily life in Florence is “pretty much the same.”

“The days I have class I’m pretty much out all day and I don’t get back to my apartment until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.,” she said. “The days I don’t have class I either stay in my apartment or I go out to a coffee shop and do computer work or homework.”

With that, Rasmussen said she thinks that if the Italian government keeps making an effort to control airports “then it should be gone.”

“It’s scary but something crazy can happen anywhere, even at UC,” she said. “So don’t limit yourself. Educate yourself and know what can happen if it escalates. Talk with your home institution and your study abroad school and know where the closest American embassy is.”

As of Feb. 26, Italy is the third country with the most cases of the novel coronavirus with 453 (12 deaths and three recoveries). China confirmed 78,486 cases (2,743 deaths and 32,483 recoveries) and South Korea reported 1,595 cases (12 deaths and 22 recoveries). In the U.S., 59 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and there have been no deaths, according to the CDC.