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Utah universities prepare as spring breaks coincide with coronavirus outbreak

Posted at 5:58 PM, Mar 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-09 20:20:37-04

Universities across the state of Utah have sent their students out on spring break, and some are just returning from countries that have known cases of novel coronavirus or COVID-19.

For Utah State University students, it’s their first day back on campus after their spring break.

“It’s a little nerve wracking,” said Rob Miles, a USU junior. “Especially right now, with the timing of spring break hitting kind of weird.”

With all the worry about COVID-19, Miles said he wasn’t nervous enough to miss his trip to Las Vegas to watch the Aggie basketball team play in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

And not nerve wracking enough for his colleagues to miss out on their travel either.

Shelby Black is a junior at USU who just returned from her spring break in Europe.

“We did a lot of the iconic Paris stuff like the Eiffel tower, Versailles, we did the Louvre,” said Black.

The Louvre was closed for a few days because of COVID-19, but Black said the only time she saw people wearing masks was in the airport.

Sophomore Josh Davis returned to USU after spending his break in California at Disneyland.

“We were in line for a ride and my little brother made a joke about the coronavirus,” said Davis. “A bunch of people turned around and started looking at us.”

Now, being back on campus, Davis said he’s nervous other people will bring the disease to their tight-knit community — a sentiment echoed by his college.

“It’s a little scary to think about all of the different places people went,” said Abbie Macferran, a USU sophomore who went home to Florida for spring break.

Macferran said while she was home, her county saw a confirmed case of COVID-19.

USU sent out an email survey for students, asking where they went for spring break. Utah State also stated in the email that they’ve created a task force dedicated to handling COVID-19 issues on campus.

Nearly 32,000 students attend the University of Utah, whose students just left the campus for their spring break — giving administrators time to prepare.

Chris Nelson, the University of Utah Communications Director said they’re focusing on what systems they could put into place should an outbreak happen in Utah or on their campus.

“Online testing or online canvas system; we’ve got the technology to do that,” said Nelson.

Nelson said they are also looking at which employees would need to come in to work, which could stay home.

With all 500 buildings on their campus, Nelson said they’ve asked building managers to increase sanitation and wipe down surfaces.

All study abroad programs at the U that were scheduled to begin over spring break were canceled, up until April 30th. Nelson said all official travel for administrators has also been canceled.

“We’d like to reduce the effect on the healthcare system as much as possible,” said Nelson. “If we can slow the spread of COVID-19? That really seems to be our focus right now.”

And the focus at USU — creating an environment of education, not fear.

“As long as we’re all just washing our hands and not touching our face, I think we’ll be okay,” said Black.