Brittainy Newman / New York Times

As coronavirus spreads, caution with travel does too.

March 9, 2020

As Coronavirus Escalates, Widespread Cancellations Hamper Spring Break Plans

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While confirmed American cases of the novel coronavirus have reached upwards of 500 and the worldwide count now exceeds 100,000, Cornell has yet to report a case of COVID-19.

Even so, the virus has significantly impacted the Cornell community in other ways, interrupting students’ plans to visit home, putting a hold on educational travel and spreading anxiety about the potential effects of an outbreak on campus.

On Thursday, Cornell released a slew of new measures aimed at preventing the transfer of the virus on campus, prohibiting large group events that draw people from outside Ithaca, as well as banning all international travel associated with the University.

This policy has so far affected at least dozens of students who were registered for Cornell- sponsored educational trips during spring break, which begins on March 28.

Otse Attah ’23 was frustrated at the cancellation of this year’s Galapagos Curriculum – a program affiliated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that takes students on a trip to the Galapagos and Easter Island for an intensive study in biology, writing and scientific illustration.

“It was shocking. I feel retrospectively that I should have seen it coming, given the fact that things are slowly but surely boiling down to a crisis over this,” Attah said. “My first reaction was – I’d hope, understandably – kind of angry.”

“We’d prepared for this trip, and coordinated our entire spring break plans around it, and to have that put in a state of crushing uncertainty wasn’t the best,” Attah continued. “But, the coordinator did say that their plan is to make sure we go to the Galapagos at some time in our college career.”

Meghna Shroff ’22 was planning to spend the break in Cancun, Mexico with nine friends, but had to cancel due to the spread of the virus internationally. Now, her backup plan to attend the Washington D.C.’s cherry blossom festival is also in jeopardy due to the disease’s continued nationwide spread.

“We think that it might be unsafe to leave Ithaca. New York state is not safe anymore, either. And D.C. isn’t safe because it is so populated and will experience heavy tourism during the cherry blossom season,” Shroff said. “So that got canceled as well. As of now we have no plans [for the break].”

With the number of new cases growing rapidly each day, Cornellians have expressed feelings of apprehension. According to some students, the knowledge that the virus originated in China has, in some cases, resulted in xenophobia and outright racism towards Chinese and Chinese-American students.

“Chinese people often wear face masks just to protect ourselves and against the virus being spread, but [I’ve heard that] in the Western World, if you’re wearing face masks, it means you’re sick,” Qiming Sun, a second year graduate student, told the Sun. “That’s why some Asians who wear face masks have been discriminated against, even [assaulted].”

While Sun recalled visiting two pharmacies that were sold out of face masks, he ultimately decided against trying to obtain one for fear of how peers would react.   

“I have family in China who feel worried about me, so they want to send face masks, but I said no – the culture’s different here; I don’t want to be so obvious,” Sun said.

The University now requires students returning from high risk countries, such as Italy and Japan, to self-quarantine for fourteen days. There are currently 36 people in Tompkins County under quarantine for possible exposure to coronavirus, but no cases have been confirmed as of Sunday night.

“Right now, in Ithaca we’re really isolated, so we’re much safer, but when there are events that take place on campus and people either leave or come in from other cities – that is really scary,” Shroff said.

While Cornell has placed restrictions on travel and limited the number of visitors allowed on campus, it is unclear when – or if – the University will eventually follow the lead of universities on the West Coast, where the virus has gained a stronger foothold.

On Saturday afternoon, the University of Washington and Stanford University have moved all in-person classes and exams for the remainder of their quarter to an online format, with the hopes of limiting gatherings that can facilitate coronavirus’ spread.

While cancelled trips and other restrictions have led to frustration, students have nevertheless largely recognized the need for precautions in a time of deep uncertainty.   

“Especially for [travel to] places that already have confirmed cases, I feel like it’s more responsible both to you and your friends to try to be cautious,” Selene Xu ‘23, a student who had to cancel a trip to Spain, said. “Because it’s not only yourself – it’s about the Cornell community.” 

Correction, March 9, 5:40 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the class year of Meghna Shroff as ’23; it has since been changed to the correct class year of ’22. Moreover, a previous version of this article incorrectly used ‘she’ to describe Qiming Sun. It has since been updated.