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SAFETI Clearinghouse
Special Issue: Responding to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Response to Novel Coronavirus in Perspective
SAFETI Clearinghouse Special Issue: Responding to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

by Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
Center for Global Education
Professor, College of Education
California State University, Dominguez Hills

“...we're not just fighting an epidemic; we're fighting an infodemic... This is a time for facts, not fear. This is a time for rationality, not rumours. This is a time for solidarity, not stigma.” - Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director General, Feb. 15, 2020

The 2019 strain of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a challenge for US and international colleges and universities and their faculty, staff, students and the campus community. Where most study abroad issues are insulated to issues focused on US students traveling abroad, the case of the Coronavirus has had a much broader impact. The most important step for any college or university is to engage (or develop) their institutional international crisis preparedness and management team, which should be expanded to include support services on campus for both international students and returning study abroad students (as well as faculty, staff and members of the community). Institutions should balance the health and safety of their students, faculty and staff with the importance of international learning and understanding to develop effective policies and procedures to respond.

With the amount of fear that surrounds Coronavirus concerns, a central campus statement about how the campus is managing the situation, along with clear support for international students, students currently studying abroad or returning from study abroad, staff, and faculty is particularly critical at this time. With the impact of the Coronavirus still growing and the potential of it moving to being considered a "pandemic", continuing planning, support, and communication is critical. The recent guidance by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidance for Student Foreign Travel for Institutions of Higher Education, expresses clear concern from the CDC that colleges and universities should look closely at CDC, US Department of State, and World Health Organization and other information to effectively analyze whether to continue to have students studying abroad in countries where the coronavirus is a concern. As they suggest, it is important for institutions to review CDC Health Warnings and US Department of State Travel Advisories, as well as other information to make educated decisions on student, faculty and staff international travel.

The Forum on Education Abroad and PULSE, an organization made up of full-time international health and safety staff at US colleges, universities, and study abroad organizations have issued The Forum and Pulse Joint Statement on COVID-19 in response to the CDC Guidance.

It is important that each college or university decide whether to continue a program or at what point they would consider postponing or canceling a study abroad or other international travel program. As the cases and data continue to evolve, regular review and updating campus policies and procedures in this area is critical. If the decision is made to cancel a program and/or ask students to return home, a decision about whether a student needs to be isolated for 14 days and obtaining a health clearance or other process before returning to campus is important. When considering canceling programs, institutions should look closely at what support and academic program will be in place for a student who does return home.

Following are some thoughts about various impacts of the Coronavirus on US colleges and universities as well as useful information resources:

1). Study Abroad: One can tell that concerns about US students abroad and the Coronavirus have escalated as CNN is even covering the recent closing of study abroad programs in Italy. We've seen some institutions closing programs in China and South Korea and institutions are looking closely at the situation as it continues. The question is not only where the Coronavirus will next appear, but where will it have the impact of limiting movement, making the study abroad experience not only with the potential of health challenges, but a limiting of the impact of the experience. Institutions need to have good information and a strong crisis management team to analyze data and make good decisions on when to close programs and when and how to bring students home. Although all resources are important, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Travel Health Notices and US Department of State Travel Advisories are critical resources for effective decision making. We suggest that institutions should be a member of the US Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and their Academic Working Group, to get regular messaging that is only available to member institutions and their institutional representatives. It is also important to coordinate with security information and emergency assistance (insurance) providers, who can provide important information about what assistance is and is not available abroad for campus travelers.

The International Higher Education Consulting Blog by David Comp with Jessica Oldford has been compiling updates on US college and university and other study abroad organization responses to the Coronavirus in China and then in other parts of the world that is useful in obtaining a better understanding of the many campus responses to the Coronavirus for study abroad:
Response to Programs in China
Response to Programs in Countries Outside China

2). New International Students: With about 1/3 of the international student population coming from China, it was clear from the start that the potential for limitations of future students coming is significant. In other countries, where the academic year just began this month (Australia, New Zealand, etc.), there have been efforts to provide support for international students to travel to study outside of limitations of direct travel from China and other countries where air transportation has been limited because of the Coronavirus transmission concerns. US colleges and universities as well as future international students intending to begin their first semester in the US are watching closely to see whether things will return to a new normal, where travel can be eased and coming to the US in August of this year could return to a more normal process.

3). Continuing International Students: International students may have concerns about their family and friends at home who may be impacted by Coronavirus. Along with providing support, providing supportive programming and information about mental health services for international students is particularly important at this time. Institutions should consider making plans for international students from countries where the Coronavirus is now, or may become a challenge to be supported for staying in the US and taking classes, finding an internship, or other ways to make use of summer 2020 without returning home as an option.

4). General - Support vs Fear: Institutions should provide messages that international students and faculty are welcome on their campus and that study abroad is identified as an important aspect of the higher education experience. This should be a part of the message about how the campus is limiting the potential of the Coronavirus to impact students, faculty, staff and the community and that the campus is also prepared to respond to support all students, faculty and staff in the US and abroad. This should include directions on who to communicate with and what steps to take if someone in the university community finds that they have health concerns about the Coronavirus for themselves or another member of the campus community, confirming that campus leadership is cooperating with local, state, and federal agencies.

5). Role of Academic Research and Resource Development: Institutions should highlight areas where their research and practice is informing an effective response to the Coronavirus, in the US and abroad.

6). Collaboration Across Campus: It is important that institutions are having regular meetings that include study abroad staff, international student staff, and faculty and staff across campus that can inform policies and procedures and effective decision-making. It is critical that the information filter through a central source so that messages are consistent across campus in terms of the response.

Key Resources:

For those of you working on supporting your campus and keeping up on the regular updates and challenges in the US and abroad related to the Coronavirus, thank you for your important work and try to maintain some balance on campus and in your mental and physical health at this challenging time.

  • Sincerely,
  •   Gary Rhodes, Ph.D., Director
  •   Safety Abroad First - Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse
  •   Center for Global Education
  •   Professor, College of Education
  •   California State University, Dominguez Hills
  •   Email:
  •   Website: