MU students returning from Italy amid coronavirus concerns

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COLUMBIA - Several MU students studying abroad in Italy are heading back to the U.S. after the university canceled its program amid growing concerns about COVID-19, better known as coronavirus.

The university's decision to cancel spring and summer programs in Italy comes after the CDC upgraded Italy to a level 3 travel alert, recommending that people avoid all nonessential travel to the country.

More than 50 people have died from the virus in Italy and more than 2,000 cases have been confirmed.

One MU student currently studying abroad in Italy for the spring semester said the virus has made things very difficult.

"It is kind of disappointing to hear that the coronavirus took us out," MU Student Alexa Leininger said. 

Leininger said MU gave students the option to stay in the country or to return back to the states. But SAI Programs, the European study abroad service that organizes the programs, is requiring students to head back home if they want to receive reimbursements and financial assistance.

She said the university in Italy, MU and SAI have all been helpful making sure students get home safely. She also said airlines have been cooperative with adjusting travel plans.

"Because of the coronavirus, all the airlines are really supportive of students studying abroad, they understand." Leininger said.

She said the environment in Italy has changed drastically while she has been there.

"The streets are, there's no one there anymore," she said. "There's no tourists. It's all locals and the survivor students basically."

But Leininger said she is not too concerned about the virus at this point.

"When it comes to this type of situation, I just kind of roll with whatever comes," she said. "I don't think it's that big of a deal because I'm pretty healthy."

Her biggest concern is getting stuck abroad.

"The travelling restrictions, I don't want the states to go 'we're canceling all the flights back,' and then I'm stuck here," she said. "Then it comes down to finances and do I have enough money to get me where I need to go."

She also said she is not worried about being quarantined or being checked for the virus, but the thought of being hospitalized abroad does seem overwhelming.

"I don't think I'll have to do any of that, but that is a little scary to think about that you might have to go to a hospital in a different country," Leininger said. "But if it happens it, it happens. I'll just hope for the best."

An infectious disease expert from MU Health said they have emergency policies and protocols in place to prepare for a surge of cases.

"If anyone has been to a high area where we have seen cases or has come in contact with somebody who has the disease, then we recommend they call and we get them in for testing," Dr. Christelle Ilboudo.

Ilboudo said MU health will conduct screenings for people travelling from high risk areas such as Italy. She also said airports will usually do the same before re-entering the county.