College advises students studying in China to leave, citing coronavirus concerns

Irene Loewenson

In light of the China-based outbreak of coronavirus, a flu-like illness that has sickened thousands and killed over 100, the College has advised the two students already studying in China to return to the U.S. and the  student who was planning to go for the spring to refrain from traveling there.

“We have reached out to all three students who were scheduled to study in Beijing and Hangzhou for the spring semester and suggested that they consider returning to the U.S.,” Director of International Education and Study Away Christina Stoiciu wrote in an email to the Record. “We provided resources and support on how to do so.”

The coronavirus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected more than 4,500 people in China and dozens more in other countries, according to The New York Times. It has killed over 100 people, all in China.

Director of Medical Services Deborah Flynn noted that the College has been following travel guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has recommended that “travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China,” as a notice on its website reads. 

Although Flynn has been working on an all-campus email about the virus, she said she has not “been involved in the decision-making per se about the students that are currently over in China or are going to China.”

In an email sent on Sunday, Jan. 26, to Ben Barton ’21, a student in Beijing, Stoiciu strongly suggested leaving China and offered “any support that we can as we follow the news of the Coronavirus closely.”

“We support a return to the USA and a departure from the program,” she wrote.

Barton, who is back in the U.S., said he plans to return to the College for the spring semester. “Although I’m sad to be leaving China and losing my opportunity to study abroad this year, I am honestly very grateful for the email from Williams,” he said. “Most other kids in the program have received little to no advice from their respective colleges and receiving a clear instructive made my decision a lot easier.”

He added, “I was definitely considering leaving the program before I received the email, or at least my parents were considering that option for me.”

In her email to Barton, Stoiciu instructed him to contact International SOS (iSOS), an emergency travel security provider, for help in leaving China. She noted in the email that either iSOS or the College would cover the cost of a flight back to the U.S and that the College could arrange to have the student back on campus for the start of the spring semester.

It will become much harder for students to leave if the areas where they reside become quarantined, she stressed. “What is most important is that you depart prior to quarantine,” Stoiciu wrote to Barton. “If quarantine happens, iSOS will be extremely limited in what they can do to support you with evacuation.”

“We also wanted to let you know that if you feel that you would like to return to Williams before the start of the spring semester you can certainly do so given the circumstances,” she added in the email. “Just let me know and we can work to have you back on campus by the start of class.”

According to Barton, Kevin Garcia Rios ’21 was also in Beijing; he did not respond by press time to an emailed request for comment.

Matthew Peacock ’21, who was planning to study in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou this spring but has been on campus for Winter Study, said he would not be living in China this spring.

He met with Stoiciu on Monday, Jan. 27. “She informed me that the Health Center and senior staff and the Study Away Office had been discussing it,” Peacock said. “The administration was not supporting me going to China.”

Peacock said that Stoiciu cited concerns about quarantining, as she had for Barton. If Hangzhou were to be put under quarantine after he arrived there, he could be stuck in China indefinitely, even as the situation with the virus worsens.

Peacock noted that Stoiciu was “very supportive” and offered help with getting into classes at the College this spring or alternative study away programs, either for this semester or next.

“No matter what, it’s just a bit shocking, especially with my being so excited to go to China,” he said. “I was very excited, and having a big wrench thrown into my plans — it was a lot to process.”