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Gov. Baker Urges Schools, Colleges To Cancel International Travel Due To Coronavirus Concerns

Gov. Charlie Baker is urging colleges, universities and high schools to cancel upcoming organized international trips, amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the flu-like illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

"Taking this precaution will help protect these students and the commonwealth as we are home to such a large number of colleges and universities," Baker said after a meeting at the State House with university and other officials.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the state's flagship campus has canceled international programs and are keeping dorms open for students who want to stay during spring break the week of March 16.

The state has reported two cases in Massachusetts. One is a student at UMass Boston who had traveled to Wuhan, China and sought medical care upon his return. The other was on a trip to Italy through EF Educational Tours with a Rhode Island high school. Two Rhode Island residents on the same trip have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

According to the state, 249 people are currently undergoing monitoring or in quarantine. Over 400 have already completed a 14-day quarantine and been released.

Several colleges, universities and K-12 school districts have already changed international travel plans — restricting or banning travel to the most affected countries. Many have formed committees to plan for a potential outbreak, as well as websites to update students, parents and staff.

Students and faculty at Newton North High School who recently returned from a trip to Italy have been asked to stay home until further notice. As of Monday, none of the 19 students and three adults had shown symptoms of the virus.

On Monday, Northeastern University and Smith College were among the institutions that announced they were requiring students and employees to quarantine themselves for 14 days if they traveled to countries identified as Level 3 (currently China, South Korea, Italy and Iran), regardless of whether they have any symptoms.

Emerson College started bringing back students this week from its campus in the Netherlands "out of an abundance of caution" and "strongly advised" students and faculty against non-essential travel to countries where COVID-19 has spread.

Harvard University has asked anyone who returned to campus from Italy, Iran, South Korea or China since specific dates to complete a confidential health form and self-isolate.

Last week, Worcester Polytechnic Institute required all students and faculty at their project center in Bangkok to return home. All students have booked their return flights, according to a spokesperson.

EF Educational Tours, which has its U.S. headquarters in Cambridge, is allowing groups that planned to travel to Europe through them to reschedule or receive vouchers. A spokesperson would not comment on how many groups were affected, saying in a statement that the company was "closely monitoring the outbreak" and "making decisions in real-time based on the best information available to us."

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

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