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Alabama universities cancel international travel amid coronavirus concerns

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The number of Alabama universities suspending international travel for students, faculty and staff is growing in response to the spreading coronavirus.

The University of Alabama System, including the three campuses and UAB Health System, on Wednesday canceled sponsored international travel for March. Decisions about travel beyond this month will be made later.

“We are taking a proactive and comprehensive approach to this health issue and all its complex impacts,” Chancellor Finis St. John said in a written statement Wednesday.

About 230 students and faculty members were expected to travel internationally this month.

“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority,” St. John said. “This is designated as an interim policy and we will continue to revise our guidance as additional information becomes available.”

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said COVID-19 is now in 77 countries. More than 80,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths have been reported in China, where the outbreak started in late 2019. In other countries, 12,668 cases and 214 deaths have been reported. At least 11 deaths in the U.S. have been reported, according to news reports Wednesday.

No cases have been reported in Alabama.

On Monday, in response to an advisory from the Centers for Disease Control, Auburn University said it is recalling all of its travel abroad students and suspending all official international travel for students, faculty and staff until further notice.

“Our number one goal is the safety and well-being of our students,” said Bill Hardgrave, Auburn’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “We are aware of how this recall impacts programming for those students currently abroad and for those who have trips planned in the coming months. We are making provisions for students affected to continue their coursework.”

Troy University this week also suspended its study abroad programs and international travel for faculty.

What to know about the new coronavirus and COVID-19

Symptoms and prevention — According to the CDC, the new coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19:

  • Spreads mainly through person-to-person contact via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes;
  • Has symptoms that include fever, cough and shortness of breath and may appear two to 14 days after exposure;
  • Currently has no vaccine and prevention measures for COVID-19 are the same as those for other respiratory illnesses, including avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, staying home when you are sick, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe and washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

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