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Civil protection volunteers engaged in health checks at Milan Malpensa airport.
Civil protection volunteers engaged in health checks at Milan Malpensa airport. | Photo from the Milan Civil Protection Department via Wikimedia Commons

Coronavirus fears prompt Christian universities to relocate students from Italy

Educators in the U.S. focus on safety as they re-examine study-abroad programs.

Amid increasing fear surrounding COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, several U.S. universities associated with Churches of Christ are scrambling to keep students safe.

As of this week, Pepperdine, Harding and Lipscomb universities are removing students from their study-abroad locations in Italy. Italy is just one of the countries where an outbreak of the virus is being closely monitored.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed globally, with more than 2,800 deaths linked to the virus.

Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., had taken action in late January to remove students from Shanghai, when the virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019 began to spread.

Now, Pepperdine and Harding University in Searcy, Ark., report they are bringing students back from Italy.

A spokesperson for Pepperdine reports 54 students will be returning to the United States.

In a statement, Pepperdine officials said, “In light of recent developments in Italy, and in line with other American universities in Florence, Pepperdine and Seaver College officials have made the decision to suspend the Florence international program for the remainder of the spring 2020 term. The University is currently aiding Florence program participants in returning to their homes.”

They go on to say that students will not be returning to the Malibu campus, but that their classes will be taught remotely by Florence program professors.

Just days after this story was published, Pepperdine announced they would be bringing more students home. As of March 2, they are also bringing students home from study abroad programs in Germany and Switzerland.

Harding is taking similar action, bringing 27 students back to the U.S. from Italy.

“The health and safety of our students is our highest priority,” said Jana Rucker, vice president for university communications and enrollment. “We are praying for everyone affected and concerned for this situation.”

Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., is taking a different approach, transferring 11 students from Florence, Italy, to Vienna, Austria, where the university has another established study-abroad program.

“Fortunately, none of the Florence students have visited a community impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” said Kim Chaudoin, assistant vice president of public relations and communications. “We will continue to monitor the situation on the ground in both Italy and Vienna to determine any adjustments that may be needed.”

For now, the relocation of the Lipscomb students is scheduled to last three weeks.

Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City said it’s also monitoring the situation. OC does not have any students in Italy but does have a group in Vienna.

“Though we don’t know when or how a situation like this will develop, we do have contingency plans in place,” said John Osborne, director of international program.

Filed under: Coronavirus COVID-19 Harding Italy Lipscomb News Oklahoma Christian Partners Pepperdine study abroad Top Stories Vienna

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