Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the streets of Florence seem quieter than usual. Florentines have not retreated indoors just yet, but most of the U.S. students who frequent the city have had their education adventures cut short.
Florence is one of the top locations for American students studying abroad, bringing in thousands each semester.
New York University and Syracuse University are among the schools that have campuses here in Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region in central Italy. Both announced the cancellation of their programs late last week.
Syracuse University officials refused to comment but put out an online statement that reads, “A confirmed case was reported in Florence – home to the Syracuse Abroad Florence centre – which has prompted restrictions on gatherings and a general evacuation of study abroad programs in that city.”
Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., also shut down its Florence program in the middle of its spring break, recalling students like Max Kelleher.
He left Europe from Vienna, where was taking a spring break side trip, and returned to his home in Everett, Wash., then went into self-quarantine for 14 days. “During spring break we said, we’ll be fine, we aren’t going home," he said. "And the next day they cancelled the whole program.”
His belongings remain in Florence. “Obviously I’m a little [annoyed] about leaving but I also wanted to get out of Europe because the cases in Italy are going up,” he said.
As of Thursday night, Italy had more than 3,800 cases, and the Italian government announced this week that all schools and universities will close until March 15. Most of the coronavirus cases are in northern Italy, but 19 out of the country’s 20 regions have confirmed cases. As well, the death toll has risen to at least 148.
California State University closed its Florence campus on Wednesday, when a case of COVID-19 was reported in the city.
The 80 students studying in Florence through CSU will be heading back to the United States.
Michael Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs for CSU, said operations of the study-abroad program were first shut down in China in late January, and South Korea campuses were closed late last week.
Mr. Uhlenkamp said CSU has had situations similar to this, where study-abroad programs were forced to close. “An example of this was in Japan with the Fukushima nuclear incident [in 2011],” he said.
Gabby Cole, a fashion student from Kent State University in Ohio, was sent home with two-days’ notice.
She had the option to wait it out but then the school announced the closure of its Florence campus. “When it hit a Level 3 [travel health notice], my mom called me and said, ‘I want you to come home, what if you get stuck there?’ It was such a stressful situation to be in, being alone and not having family.”