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COVID-19 disrupts spring break travel

<p>McCosh Health Center.</p>
<h6>Photo Credit: Zachary Shevin / The Daily Princetonian</h6>

McCosh Health Center.

Photo Credit: Zachary Shevin / The Daily Princetonian

In light of the global COVID-19 crisis, students are reevaluating their spring break plans.

On the evening of Wednesday, March 4, the University sent an email to all students concerning the spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the “coronavirus disease.” The alert acknowledged that the University has a “limited capacity to provide locations for students to self-quarantine,” noting that certain student travelers returning to the United States “will have to do so at home.”

The message also recommended canceling all non-essential travel plans over spring break, “especially if they involve travel to Asia or Europe.”

“We expect significant numbers of students to cancel or postpone their spring break travel, and the University is prepared to support those students who choose to remain on campus,” the email noted.

This announcement came two days after University President Chrisopher Eisgruber ’83 wrote a letter urging community members to take care of themselves, plan ahead, and stay informed — and a day after Governor Phil Murphy announced New Jersey’s first positive disease test result.

Officials confirmed a second positive test in the state on Thursday, March 5.

International Travel

The announcement reiterated previously announced policies, including the prohibition on any University-sponsored travel to countries assigned a Level 3 Warning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These countries currently include mainland China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

The University’s recommendations also address concerns beyond those nations.

The University encouraged all students planning to undertake travel — whether University-sponsored or personal — to postpone their plans.

“We ask all travelers to weigh the necessity of any upcoming travel and understand the risks involved, even beyond the current CDC assessment,” the letter noted.

The listed risks extend beyond disease exposure, including “the potential for unexpected delays and cumbersome logistics,” which could result in missing work and classes upon returning.

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Joy Xie ’22 and a classmate originally hoped to visit London over the break. Following the University’s email, Xie is seriously reconsidering her plans.

“I’ve been following a number of cases in the U.K. after I saw that Italy was on high alert,” she told The Daily Princetonian. “It has been making me consider cancelling.”

Xie said that one of the reasons why she has not pulled out yet is because her airline has not offered a refund.

“I just want my money back,” she said.

“I am continuing to monitor what is happening in Europe, especially London,” Xie added. “If London goes into an emergency state, I will definitely cancel because airlines will probably be giving out refunds then.”

Even so, Xie is less worried about contracting the virus and more concerned about being permitted to return to school.

“I will very likely cancel if the University quarantines people after coming back from Europe, because I can't afford to miss two weeks of classes,” she said.


In late January, 108 students returning from China after Intersession were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Individuals in self-isolation received “housing, dining, and academic support,” according to Deputy University Spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss — though some students who underwent communal isolation expressed outrage at how they were treated.

The latest announcement instructs individuals to self-quarantine at their permanent residences, rather than on campus.

According to Hotchkiss, “timing” informs this policy change.

“At the start of the semester, guidance from health authorities regarding self-quarantine came just as many students were returning to campus from around the world,” he wrote in a statement. “For spring break, we know there’s the possibility that returning students will need to self-quarantine, and we have the ability to plan ahead.”

He added that housing availability on campus “was, and remains, very limited.”

The announcement includes a confidential form that all students returning from impacted countries must submit before returning to campus.

According to Hotchkiss, “impacted countries” include those listed at CDC Warning Level 3 and Level 2 or State Department Level 4 and Level 3 for COVID-19. These countries include China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia.

Though the United States has only barred entry of foreign nationals from China and Iran, Hotchkiss noted that “the University may ask that students traveling from other locations self-quarantine based on their confidential risk assessment form.”

According to Hotchkiss, students whose circumstances prevent them from returning to their permanent residences to self-quarantine must email before returning to campus.

“Having students return to their permanent residence to self-quarantine is very important because it will help preserve the limited locations for self-quarantine on campus for such situations,” he added.

Domestic Disruptions

While the University is relying on CDC and State Department assessments when it comes to international travel, these organizations do not address domestic risk. But as the announcement implies, that does not mean domestic travel is risk-free.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread in the U.S., health authorities may determine that self-quarantine is recommended or required following travel to certain affected areas,” Hotchkiss added. “Students should stay aware of the situation in their travel destination and look to current information from federal, state and local health authorities.”

As of Thursday night, the governors of Washington, California, and Florida, and Maryland had declared states of emergency.  According to The New York Times, at least 200 patients with the virus have been treated in 19 states, and 14 individuals have died from the disease in the United States.

As of yesterday morning, approximately 10 members of the Princeton Debate Panel (PDP) were planning to travel to Stanford University this weekend. Last night, they learned the event was canceled, after Stanford recommended campus organizations “cancel or postpone” events involving more than 150 people.

According to PDP President Shreyas Kumar ’21, the event organizers gave a number of reasons for the cancellation.

They couldn’t provide enough hand sanitizers or masks because Palo Alto is out of both of those things right now. They couldn’t provide individually packaged food, and they thought it was unsafe to put food out for everyone to eat,” Kumar noted.

“They thought it was too dangerous to host a tournament,” he added.

PDP had scheduled two more trips during spring break — one to Boston and another to Providence — the status of which are under consideration, according to Kumar. He said he will meet with a University administrator to discuss these tournaments, as well as PDP’s course of action for the rest of the semester and beyond.

“I’m a little concerned about next semester,” he added. “Our world championship is in South Korea, so hopefully it doesn’t impact that too much.”

According to Hotchkiss, the University is reviewing the status of international student-group trips scheduled for spring break. In general, domestic student-group trips are scheduled to continue as planned.

“However, that could change, depending on the best available guidance from health authorities,” he wrote. “We urge students to be prepared to be flexible should circumstances change. We are working with trip organizers on developing contingency plans and communicating with students signed up for trips.” 

Though concerned about future tournaments, Kumar described the University’s approach to the issue as “pretty appropriate.”

“It’s probably better to be safe than sorry on the front end and slowly release these restrictions as things get better,” he said.

Inside the Bubble

New Jersey has identified two cases of the virus in Fort Lee, around 60 miles from Princeton. In addition, there have been 22 cases reported in New York, 18 of which are in Westchester County.

Hotchkiss reiterated the University’s commitment to keeping the community informed with new information as it becomes available.

“No one has been tested for COVID-19 at McCosh [Health Center],” he confirmed. “We’re not aware of any member of the University community who has met the criteria for testing.”

If a case of COVID-19 is discovered on campus, Hotckiss wrote that the University “will share that information with the community.”

When it comes to campus life, Hotchkiss noted the University’s commitment “to accommodate all students who choose to remain on campus during break, at no additional cost to the students.” The Whitman College dining hall will be open to all students for brunch and dinner during spring break.

Students will also be contacted soon with information on how to register their planned dates for being on campus, to “help with COVID-19 preparedness and response planning and ensure service support, particularly for anticipating dining needs and venues.”