Coronavirus

Specimens of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, classified COVID-19, emerge from infected human cells taken from a patient in the United States at an undefined date.

ATCHISON, Kan. — With the highly infectious agent known as the coronavirus now established within Europe and present in every other continent save Antarctica, Benedictine College of Atchison, Kansas, is taking steps to protect its students.

The private, Catholic higher education institution, which has around 2,000 students, routinely sends about 50 participants for a semester-long study abroad program in Florence, Italy. The college announced this week that it will cut that semester short for some students who desire to return home. According to Associated Press reports, as of Wednesday Italy has reported about 400 cases of infection by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, which causes the illness coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.

“There are currently no government agencies recommending that international students or personnel leave the country,” said Benedictine President Stephen D. Minnis, in a Wednesday morning announcement to students. “We are going to keep the Florence campus open and continue teaching classes to those who want to stay in Italy. We are working with ... staff to ensure that all necessary supplies, including adequate stores of food and water, are available to our students ...”

Director Daniel Musso, who oversees Benedictine’s study abroad programs, said the college has given students the option of staying in Italy or coming back to the United States, where COVID-19 cases also have been reported.

“Fourteen of 52 students are returning home,” Musso said.

Musso added the flexibility is in response to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and what other colleges in Italy are doing. He added families visiting for spring break are still going.

The program is also run in the summer and, as of now, that trip is still on. However, students for this summer are being told to wait to buy plane tickets.

Benedictine students in Italy are not under any type of quarantine at this point.

“Students are allowed to walk around the towns they are in,” Musso said. “The situation looks different from in the States. People over there are still living everyday lives.”

According to the AP, the Roman Catholic Church conducted normal Ash Wednesday services led by Pope Francis in Vatican City, as the Rome area has so far been spared any significant cases of COVID-19. However, the church canceled various services throughout northern Italy.

“Bear in mind that this is a rapidly evolving situation,” Minnis said. “If the cases become significantly more widespread, we cannot be sure of the impact on travel until Italian authorities feel they are in full control of the situation ... We will continue to keep an eye on the situation and let you know if conditions change.”

Atchison Globe managing editor

Marcus Clem contributed to this story.