Lehigh students use the Lehigh Valley International Airport (LVIA) as an easily accessible airport for travels. The LVIA remains open during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of Lehigh Valley International Airport)

Students adjust spring break travel due to coronavirus, Lehigh prepares for their return


President John Simon and Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Center David Rubenstein sent an email to the Lehigh community on Feb. 28 with guidelines for students returning to campus after traveling to countries the CDC has identified as “Warning Level 3” and “Alert Level 2” in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Upon return to the U.S., contact the LU HWC at 610-758-3870 to review recent travel history and current symptoms for follow-up and guidance; and self-monitor for 14 days before returning to campus,” the email said. 

The email said students would be allowed to return to campus after a 14-day self monitoring period for fever, cough or shortness of breath. 

“We are expecting that, as responsible community members, if these criteria apply, that individuals will uphold these requirements and do their part in ensuring the health and safety of our community,” said Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations, in an email.  

Friedman said Lehigh has directed students studying abroad in Italy to return to the U.S.  

The initial email said staff and faculty will work with students who need to complete academic work remotely.

“For overall travel plans, especially non-university related trips that students may be taking over spring break, we want students to be aware that, although you may be able to leave the U.S. and go to other countries, there is always the possibility that you may experience difficulty returning depending on how this situation evolves,” Friedman said in the email. 

John Klikushin, ‘22, was supposed to go to Italy to visit a friend over spring break. 

The CDC has currently identified Italy as “Warning Level 3, Avoid Non-Essential Travel.” 

Klikushin said his dad vetoed his trip after students began to get pulled from their study abroad programs, and information came out that it was spreading to other countries. His dad was worried about him getting back to the U.S., facing possible quarantine and missing school, he said. 

Now, Klikushin said he is going home and spending time with his parents. 

“There’s already cases popping up all over the U.S., just because the flights are still going every single day,” Klikushin said. “There are thousands of flights, so I think it is definitely going to be in Pennsylvania or very close to campus, if not on campus within the next one or two weeks.”

Klikushin said he believes there is a real possibility of the disease coming back to Lehigh after spring break. He said he doesn’t think Lehigh will be able to do much to prevent this. 

Victoria Chmiel, ‘21, was planning on traveling to Italy, Spain and Ireland over spring break.  

She said she canceled plans to go to Italy with a friend after Lehigh sent out the travel warning.

“Before Lehighsent out that email, we still kind of wanted to go and risk it, but after they sent that email out we were like, ‘OK there is no chance we are going to go to Italy,’” Chmiel said. 

She said a lot of people ended up canceling their spring break trips entirely because they are scared of traveling. 

Chmiel said she lost a lot of money canceling her Italy trip, because she bought her ticket with a budget airline that does not protect against any kind of reason why travel plans may fall through.

She said her decision to not cancel her whole trip may be controversial, but people from Lehigh will be going in and out of the country either way.

“I understand any kind of international travel comes with an inherent risk at this point, but I was kind of like, ‘I don’t want to live in fear and sacrifice this,’” Chmiel said. 

Chmiel said the best thing to do at this point is prepare for the inevitable truth that the virus will spread. 

Olivia Negri, ‘22, was planning on visiting a friend who is studying abroad in Paris. 

She said last weekend, her friend went to Italy, and once the friend returned to Paris, her study abroad program had forced her to self-quarantine for 14 days in case she contracted the virus in Italy. 

Negri said she canceled her trip to Paris because she would not be able to see her friend anymore, since she is self-quarantining. 

“As much as it really sucks that my plans were affected by it, I do think it’s smart,” Negri said. “Let’s say a travel ban was in place while I was there, I would not know what to do. That would just be bad, and as much as it’s hurting a lot of people and even the economy, it’s probably better not to spread an epidemic like that around.” 

Negri said she lives in Rye, New York, a part of Westchester County. According to ThePatch.com, as of March 4, about 1,000 people are expected to go into either mandatory or self-quarantine in Westchester County. There are 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York. 

Olivia Conte, ‘23, also lives in Westchester County. She was supposed to travel to Copenhagen to visit her brother, who is studying abroad. 

“It makes it a little more scary and real because it’s so close to home, but also I feel like it’s not going to really affect me personally because I am not going to be in close contact with that person,” Conte said.

Conte said she is nervous about how Lehigh is going to respond to students traveling over break, but she said she thinks the school is taking the proper precaution about it. 

“It’s just everywhere now — you can’t avoid it anymore,” Conte said. “It’s just going to spread everywhere.”

Friedman said in an email that a notice to campus is planned for later this week, which will provide the campus community with ways to inform the Health and Wellness Center of upcoming travel plans.

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