By Grace Snell, Viking Fusion Reporter
Ben Allee, Viking Fusion News Producer
Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier Deputy News Editor
On Monday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that there are now two confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, in metro-Atlanta. According to Kemp’s statements in a late-night press conference, the two cases were reported in Fulton County, in the same house. One of the patients had recently traveled back from Italy and was diagnosed following the contraction of preliminary symptoms. Neither patient has been hospitalized, and both are currently isolated in their home. According to Kemp, the patients took significant precautionary measures that lowered the risk of the virus spreading to the broader community. Nonetheless, these two cases mark the first in Georgia.
On Monday night, two hours prior to Kemp’s press conference, students received an email with a message from President Steve Briggs on the virus. According to this email, Briggs has convened a campus planning group to ensure the situation is adequately monitored. Gary Will, assistant vice president of campus safety and emergency response management, declined comment on Berry’s plans for coronavirus, because he is not a part of this planning group. However, he did explain that the group is being led by Chief of Staff Debbie Heida. Heida did not respond to emails requesting interview regarding Berry’s plans for prevention and response to the spread of coronavirus.
The email from President Steve Briggs mentioned that administration, particularly Provost Mary Boyd, are keeping record of student spring break travel plans. It urges students planning on traveling during spring break, or at another time during the semester, to pay attention to warnings and precautions from the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, an email sent to students on Wednesday informs students that they must be subject to a 14-day quarantine and a physical from a healthcare provider before returning to campus if they will be traveling to an area listed as a level 3 risk by the CDC.
Study abroad programs continue to be another source of concern with regards to the spread of COVID-19. Some programs, both current and future, are being cancelled in response to coronavirus.
Abigail Stallings, a junior art major, is currently in Europe waiting to return to the U.S. She was studying abroad through the Studio Arts College International (SACI) in Florence, Italy, which informed students that it was closed on Saturday afternoon. Stallings said that this decision is the result of an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which had infected 11 people in the region of Tuscany, where SACI is located, as of Sunday.
Taryn Cox, a sophomore economics major, planned to go to South Korea for her spring semester. On Feb. 26, however, the board of directors for CIS study abroad program, her study abroad program, cancelled the trip before it began. She said that students who planned to attend could still do so later on.
“CIS has informed us that we can either be reimbursed with a full refund and start the abroad process over again, or if we are interested in a summer or fall program they will transfer the funds over,” Cox said.
In Stallings’ case, the future is not so clear. She is currently touring outside of the city of Florence on her spring break, and must return to Florence before she can fly to the U.S. Stallings said that getting home might not be easy due to possible quarantines, and that she does not know what she will do for the rest of her academic year.
“So, after spring break I will return to Florence on Sunday, hoping that the borders will remain open and I will pack my things,” Stallings said in an email to Viking Fusion. “I am unsure of whether I will remain at home for the rest of the semester, return to berry, [sic] and I am unsure about the US’ [sic] decision on quarantine upon arrival.”
In her email, Stallings said that the arrival of the virus in Italy greatly affected her daily life in recent weeks. She recalled workers in hazmat suits and emergency tents in front of a hospital in Florence, and said that programs similar to SACI shut down one by one as the virus spread.
Despite the cancellation and uncertainty, Stallings said she is grateful for the study abroad experience she has had.
“The only thing I can do (along with the other students) is appreciate the time I have had abroad (because it is still so worth it), and patiently wait to see how this will all be handled,” Stallings said.
Other study abroad programs associated with Berry are being threatened by the spread of the virus, but no other cancellations have been reported.
If a student develops symptoms of COVID-19, the email sent on Wednesday said they must call ahead to their healthcare provider to inform them of the potentional diagnosis. Furthermore, students officially diagnosed must leave campus.