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MSU student abroad in Italy reacts to coronavirus self-quarantine letter

Campus officials cancel upcoming undergraduate conference
Posted at 2:46 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-12 16:46:34-04

With team coverage across Gallatin County, we’re following developing news from Montana State University as they begin to deal with concerns for coronavirus.

This includes students who are studying abroad in Italy.

According to a letter sent out to at least 15 students studying abroad in Italy, MSU has been “diligently keeping track of the coronavirus” and have now called all of them home out of precaution.

Some have already returned.

The university asks each student to *not return to campus -- and to self-quarantine for 14 days.

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But one of those students, still in Italy, now has questions of his own.

“Pretty much, I’m the last person to leave tomorrow,” says Carlos Palmer, an MSU student studying in Italy.

Palmer, currently awaiting a plane home to Bozeman, spoke with MTN News.

“Yesterday was a real first day that it really got hectic,” Palmer says. “I have a 19 hour flight and then I come back to Bozeman and it seems like every door is closed. I just want to have a spot to sleep and shower.”

For Palmer, it’s a waiting game, watching Italy experience the pandemic, firsthand.

“Businesses are closing at 6 pm, basically when the sun goes down and they’re maintaining a mandatory distance of a meter, about three feet between everybody,” Palmer says.

“They only let probably five customers in at a time and then cycle the customers through so we’re standing in line but we’re maintaining a distance of three feet from each other,” Palmer says. “I feel like it is my courtesy and my obligation to explain to the hotel that I might have an infectious disease. Like, I can potentially be Patient Zero and I don’t want to be that person.”

According to MSU’s letter, the university “will not provide quarantine housing to students” like Carlos -- and officials “strongly urge that you stay with family or friends during this self-quarantine period” -- with those members not having to self-quarantine, themselves.

You can see the full letter attached below.

To Palmer, this raises concern.

“They are currently housing some of my younger cousins that might be susceptible and then I have an uncle who is infirm and it’s not the best situation,” Palmer says. “My big concern is that there are other people, other classmates that have family that are involved in the medical field. I’m not one of them.”

Jennifer Vermeer is an MSU student with three open spaces, including one for Carlos.

Vermeer is worried others who have already returned, the letter came too late.

“We are all in this together and it looks like it is inevitable that the coronavirus is going to come to Bozeman one of these days because it’s spreading pretty quickly,” Vermeer says. “We’re just hoping that they follow the direction to self-quarantine because you don’t know what people are going to do.”

It’s a new situation for Tracy Ellig, Vice-President of MSU Communications, too.

“Self-quarantine doesn’t mean that the traveler is ill,” Ellig says. “It’s a precaution and self-quarantine also doesn’t mean complete isolation. It means staying away from crowds. It means having social distance of at least three feet from other people but it doesn’t mean being locked in a room and not communicate with anyone.”

He adds that’s a difficult question to answer, but the university will provide ways for students to make up for the rest of the semester they missed abroad…

“We’ve made arrangements for them to continue their course of study so they will be able to have completed a semester of academic work,” Ellig says. “That request that they self-quarantine is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that travelers from Level III countries, which Italy is, self-quarantine for 14 days.”

Palmer says he understands but his worries continue.

“This has been an incredible change for them and we’re very grateful for their willingness to work for us, with us,” Ellig says. “We’re also very grateful for their understanding, that these are really an extraordinary set of circumstances.”

“I’m just trying to make sure that I’ve got a spot to sleep when I land,” Palmer says. “It would be nice to have some sort of help.”

Powell says that he knows of at least six students who have decided to just go home and risk being with their family.

On a related note, MSU did cancel the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which has brought around 4,000 undergraduates to campus from across the country.

They do not have plans to reschedule.

“We’ve been in close conversations with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Gallatin City-County Health Department, our own health care workers, as well as the executive board of NCUR, itself,” Ellig says. “We’re also very grateful for their understanding, that these are really an extraordinary set of circumstances.”

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Dear Students,

We know that you are currently in the process of returning home from Italy amid the current coronavirus situation, and can imagine there is much concern and confusion around your return.

We want you to know that we have been diligently keeping track of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and are in constant communication with the offices who have the most current information about what next steps should be in regards to your return and the best practices to observe.

Based on advisement from the Gallatin City-County Health Department and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, MSU is asking that you not return to the campus until after a 14-day self-quarantine. MSU will not provide quarantine housing to students returning from a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice: Currently, China, Italy, South Korea and Iran.

Specifically, all travelers who are returning from Italy should return home to their families and/or personal residences (whether in-state or out-of-state).

Since you will not be provided housing for the 14 day self-quarantine period, we strongly urge that you stay with family (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) or friends during this self-quarantine period. NOTE: Family/friends do not have to self-quarantine with you during the 14 day period unless you show signs of illness.

Self-quarantine is a precautionary measure at this time. If during your self-quarantine you should you begin showing signs of illness (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing), please: Contact your local health department for additional information and instructions. Seek medical advice. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your recent travel an area with community spread of coronavirus, and your symptoms. Avoid contact with others. Do not travel while sick. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Clean your hands by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol immediately after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.

NOTE: After the 14 day self-quarantine period is over, you are welcome to return to campus and continue your studies. Please know we will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf to ensure your health and safety.

Deborah C. Haynes, Ph.D. | she/her/hers Associate Professor, Consumer Economics Acting Vice Provost of Global Affairs and Dean of International Programs P.O. Box 172260 183 Student Union Building Montana State University Bozeman, MT 59717 Office Phone: (406) 994-7688 dhaynes@montana.edu