When Gabriella Galizia* returned from her UB study abroad trip to Italy on Friday, no one at JFK screened her for the coronavirus or put her in quarantine.
“I flew into JFK and there was no temperature screening,” Galizia said. “There was nothing and that surprised me. It was actually scary. Like I actually would’ve wanted to be screened.”
On Tuesday, she returned to campus.
And on Wednesday afternoon, the Erie County Department of Health recommended Galizia “self-isolate” but did not mandate it or check to see that she did, Galizia said. UB, she said, did not contact her about quarantine.
In Florence, she said she lived “two minutes” from a hospital treating a coronavirus patient.
Galizia had been studying in Italy on a UB program and came home on Friday, five days before SUNY decided to bring faculty and students back.
Provost A. Scott Weber, when asked about how UB is dealing with students like Galizia, said UB is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols/guidelines at this time. He said UB is working closely with the ECDOH to use appropriate screening guidelines and encourages students to contact health services if they have a concern.
The nine other UB students who had been studying with Galizia are now planning to return home, but SUNY has not announced when or how they will arrive.
In a campus-wide email Wednesday, Weber and Interim Vice President for Student Life Christina Hernandez wrote, “Following the guidance of New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the State University of New York (SUNY), the University at Buffalo has directed our students who are studying abroad in countries impacted by COVID-19 to return to the U.S.” Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office announced Wednesday that students returning from those programs would be quarantined for two weeks. The Spectrum couldn’t verify who would pay for the return flights and the room and board for the students while they are quarantined or what sort of academic credit the students would get for the unfinished semester. SUNY and Cuomo also did not say where the students would be quarantined, although Cuomo spoke of “designated” campus dormitories. New York currently has 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus, while Buffalo, as of Wednesday night, had none.
Through Tuesday and Wednesday, UB administrators sent out emails and held a press conference reassuring students, faculty and staff about preventative measures the university is taking regarding the coronavirus. Weber said UB has been discussing how the coronavirus would affect all on-campus operations since mid-January, when the university began “diligently” responding to the outbreak. Weber said UB has had “constant conversations” with Campus Living –– along with Campus Dining & Shops –– about what it would do if the coronavirus arrives on campus.
“We have some plans that are evolving through that process,” Weber said.
In a Tuesday email, UB President Satish Tripathi announced the creation of a UB coronavirus task force and advisory committee.
The task force is collaborating with the Erie County Department of Health on a plan for if the virus spread to campus. Tripathi also created five “working groups” headed by administrators and faculty “to ensure preparedness for any potential event in this evolving situation.”
Students have voiced concern that if the virus spreads to campus, the semester may be cut short, affecting midterms, finals and graduation. UB spokesperson John DellaContrada declined to comment on the hypothetical.
Weber said UB will determine how to handle class operations when necessary.
“We have a strong team right now that is developing a whole series of contingencies and guidelines for how to take every class and take it to an online environment,” Weber said. “We believe we have the technology to do it. We’re not planning to do that unless it’s necessary. We’ll work on a case-by-case basis.”
Susan Eilenberg, an English professor, said she would consider moving her classes online if the outbreak reaches Buffalo, which she feels isn’t “unreasonable.”
“I’ve held the occasional class online when, in earlier semesters, I myself have been ill. So it doesn’t seem to me like an altogether unreasonable thing to consider although I very much dislike having to do it,” Eilenberg said. “It is no substitute for face-to-face teaching.”
UB Athletics has also been monitoring the coronavirus and following the guidelines set by UB President Satish Tripathi and the NYS health department.
The department has “been in constant contact with the Mid-American Conference and NCAA and [is] monitoring the situation closely,” UB Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Jon Fuller wrote in an email. It currently does not plan on cancelling games.
In a press conference Wednesday, Weber insisted the university was working hard to keep campus safe. Weber encourages students to visit UB Health Services if they show symptoms of the virus, stay home if they feel sick and wash their hands. The university and state are, he said, “showing an abundance of caution.”
*Student’s name has been changed to protect their identity
Benjamin Blanchet, Alexandra Moyen, Reilly Mullen and Justin Weiss contributed reporting.
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Elizabeth "Liz" Napolitano is the senior news editor for The Spectrum. She's an optimistic pessimist who found her love for journalism in Ecuador. She likes late night walks and reading Twitter threads in their entirety.