Ohio State has updated its university-sponsored travel restrictions to include China, South Korea, Italy and Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Kelly Meaden | Managing Editor for Design

Study abroad and spring break plans for Ohio State students have fallen through as the coronavirus spreads worldwide. 

Ohio State’s suspension of university-sponsored travel to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran resulted in 21 students having to return to the United States from study abroad programs, according to Ohio State personnel, and others have canceled their own plans in response. 

Ninety-eight percent of confirmed worldwide coronavirus cases, officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, are from those countries. 

The virus has led to a temporary suspension of Ohio State study abroad programs in China and South Korea through April 20, Jeannie Simmons, director of Ohio State’s Education Abroad, said.

“We no longer have students in those locations for this semester,” Simmons said. “Once the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] elevated its warning to warning level three, they departed.” 

China, South Korea, Italy and Iran are all under warning level three.

Simmons said warning levels are determined by the CDC, and a warning level three means people should avoid all nonessential travel to the area because the outbreak is of high risk to travelers, and there are no precautions to protect against the increased risk, according to the CDC website. 

“That’s typically the line in the sand that would lead to cancellation of education abroad programming or having students return,” Simmons said.

Simmons said both students studying abroad in South Korea have left, as has the one student abroad in China.

China has 80,174 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,915 deaths as of March 2, according to WHO. South Korea has 4,212 confirmed cases and 22 deaths as of March 2, according to WHO.

Two summer faculty-led education abroad programs to China have been canceled, but warning levels for other countries haven’t warranted a decision on the status of summer programming, Simmons said. 

“It’s definitely a fluid situation,” Simmons said. “University officials and risk management continue to monitor the situation.”

Eighteen students are studying abroad in Italy and are currently in the process of making travel arrangements to return home, Maureen Miller, director of communications in the Office of International Affairs, said in an email.

“We are in the very early stages of working out details of next steps with respect to academic programs,” Miller said. 

It is not immediately clear whether there will be refunds or other financial compensation for returning study abroad students. As of March 2, Italy has 1,689 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths, according to WHO.

The university has no study abroad programs in Iran, and there are no students there, Miller said. Iran has 978 confirmed cases and 54 deaths, according to WHO. 

On Jan. 30, the university announced its first travel restriction, limiting travel to China until March 6, according to a universitywide email. On Feb. 19, this restriction was extended to April 20.

The university has also since suspended university-sponsored travel to South Korea, Italy and Iran until April 20. 

According to a universitywide email, those who travel to restricted areas must report their travel to the university at travelreporting@osumc.edu through April 20. 

A universitywide email sent Feb. 29 said the best way to prevent the spread of any disease is to practice routine hygiene etiquette. 

“There is no need to change any routine campus activities or behaviors due to COVID-19,” the email said.

At the time of publication, there are no confirmed cases in Ohio, according to the CDC. There have been 43 cases and two deaths in the United States.

While some students are abruptly returning home from study abroad trips, other students are scrambling to rearrange their spring break plans. 

In August 2019, Gus Workman, a fourth-year in Chinese and computer engineering; Rahul Mansukhani, a fourth-year in finance; and three of their friends booked “a once in a lifetime kind of trip,” Mansukhani said.

The five friends planned to travel to China for a nontraditional spring break trip, Workman said, but the COVID-19 outbreak caused their plans to fall through. 

“We were originally aware of the situation, and we had determined that if the CDC thought it was OK, we would still go,” Workman said. “But then they started canceling all the flights, and so the situation worsened.”

The friends rescheduled their trip to China for April 2021, Workman said. 

The outbreak forced them to make last-minute travel plans for spring break, Mansukhani said. The friends will now drive to the Smoky Mountains, but because they rescheduled, they did not get a refund for their planned China trip. 

“It’s like we are paying for two trips for one spring break,” Mansukhani said in an email. 

Lily Dickson, a third-year in international studies, had a trip planned with two friends from Ohio State to visit their four friends studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

“We had this planned, and we saved up money since before Thanksgiving for this,” Dickson said. “It was so perfect because we were going to stay in their apartment for free and we just had to pay for our flights.”

Dickson said the increasing warning level of coronavirus in Italy caused tension in their friend group. 

“I said if it gets to a level three, I’m not coming, and they were really mad, but then they literally got sent home so there was no choice,” Dickson said.

Dickson said that even though she is disappointed she’s no longer going to Italy, she looks forward to relaxing over spring break.

“Now I’m going to my grandma’s house in Florida with my mom on Monday,” Dickson said. “Not as exciting, but I get sunshine, I guess.”

Outreach and Engagement Editor Lily Maslia contributed to this story.