The 2019 novel coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, was first identified in Wuhan, China in early January. As of today, there are more than 113,000 cases of the disease worldwide. Italy, South Korea, China, Iran and Venezuela are all on alert Level 3 by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), meaning that it is highly recommended that everyone avoids nonessential travel to these countries. KSC has put together a Pandemic Response Team, which is made up of multiple key people representing a variety of areas across campus. Executive Director of the Wellness Center Brian Quigley is the commander of the team.
In response to the epidemic, Keene State College also made the decision to bring all four students currently studying abroad in Italy back to the U.S. KSC President Melinda Treadwell said this was a precautionary measure to ensure the students would be able to get home safely.
“By the time [Italy] went to a Level 3, I wanted to make sure that we got [the students] out of there so there was no chance the country would have no travel and they would be trapped there for some time. We expect the virus to extend,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell said that similar measures could be enacted for KSC students studying abroad in other countries if those countries get to a Level 3. However, the college is also taking into account the risk of travelling itself.
“We’re looking at our overseas students and looking very carefully at what those levels are. If it’s at Level 2 and looks like it will go to Level 3, we’ll be bringing students home,” Treadwell said. “My first and foremost priority is our students. Putting them on a plane and a bus creates its own risk. If they’re safe in an area and the contagion around them seems under control, limited in scale or not immediate, then it’s better to let them stay.”
As for how those students’ studies will be impacted by their study abroad being cut short, Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte said their credits should not be affected.
“There’s an agreement with the institution in Italy where they were located to complete their credits and classes remotely so that they can finish their studies from home and they’ll receive full credit. The expenses of their early return were also covered by Keene State,” Ricaurte said. “They’ve been asked to remain off campus for 14 days because that is the amount of time it takes for symptoms to occur. They can come to campus after that if they want to, but their studies don’t require them to be on campus.”
Also in response to the outbreak, an email was sent out to all KSC students on Tuesday, March 3, asking any students, faculty or staff planning on travelling over the course of spring break to fill out a form with their travel information. The form asked for the dates of travel, any locations being travelled to and the date the individual will return to campus. In addition to this, any official group college trips planned to locations that have a travel health notice of Level 3 or 4 from either the CDC or the U.S. Department of State will be canceled until the disease is no longer a threat.
“We anticipate, given the rapidness of things, that if there were another region identified with a travel alert, we would want to make sure that we were [well-planned] in being able to identify who individuals may be and making sure we’re thoughtful about their return to the states and also to campus,” Quigley said. “The registration form [is] our mechanism to be able to do that. If four people within our community go to Greece, for example (which we hope they do at the current time because there hasn’t been a travel alert), but in the next 48 hours we find out information from the CDC that the country has now elevated to a Level 3, we at least now can make some arrangements about how we respond and support those four people in the campus community.”
As for the possibility of the college being closed, Quigley said there is no way to predict the possibility of that. However, the Pandemic Response Team has a number of plans in place for any possibility.
“There’s a multitude of contingency plans that are in place and the role of the Pandemic Response Team is to stay ahead of those possibilities and have solutions or responses available as the situation changes,” Quigley said. “We are constantly monitoring by the minute changes to the circumstances. If there’s a domestic region that has some kind of travel alert issued, we would send that notification and the college’s response to that out immediately. The likelihood that something’s going to change, no one can say. The likelihood of us responding to that change quickly, though, is 100 percent.”
The college is also being proactive right now to have quarantine plans in place and to keep campus healthy.
“In addition to the monitoring we’re doing, residential life is preparing for a scenario, if the virus was to make it to campus, to have an area where students could be quarantined and how to support those students in terms of meals and academic support,” Ricaurte said. “Our cleaning services across campus and in all of our buildings are focusing on using a disinfectant solution, which is a change from what they usually use. We’re focusing on areas where there’s a lot of high contact, like door handles and where a lot of people congregate.”
More information on COVID-19 and updates on how KSC is responding to it can be found on the college’s website at: www.keene.edu/office/wellnesscenter/info-on-coronavirus/.
The four students who returned from Italy did not respond to request for comment.
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at