Coronavirus outbreak prompts ISU travel prohibitions

Iowa State is barring business travel to China and closely monitoring the outbreak of a new respiratory illness there, but the novel coronavirus poses little immediate risk in Iowa.

President Wendy Wintersteen announced the prohibition on university-sponsored travel by students and employees Jan. 28 in a letter to the campus community, noting that the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are advising against visiting China for the time being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said as of Jan. 29, 6,065 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, 68 outside of China. All 132 confirmed coronavirus fatalities have been in China. Five U.S. cases have been confirmed, none in Iowa. The outbreak is centered in the city of Wuhan in China's Hubei province. The Chinese government has prohibited leaving or entering the province in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

In addition to the risk of infection, the potential effects of travel restrictions inside China played a role in the university's decision to restrict trips to the country until the situation stabilizes, said Shaun Jamieson, ISU international risk analyst.

Jamieson said university officials have been in contact with three Iowa State students who will miss the second half of a two-semester study abroad program based at Lanzhou Jiaotong University in Lanzhou, the capital of China's Gansu province. ISU will help arrange for spring classes or a different study abroad program for those students after they return, he said.

Five employee trips to China had been registered for the next 180 days, and about a dozen faculty and staff have reported being in the country within the past month, Jamieson said. Neither the recently returned employees nor the study abroad students have reported coronavirus symptoms, he said.

Thielen Student Health Center has fielded lots of questions about coronavirus and created a website devoted to sharing updates and advice, said Erin Baldwin, assistant vice president for student health and wellness. Echoing a point made in Wintersteen's message, Baldwin encouraged relying on trusted sources for information about the outbreak. ISU's response is rooted in recommendations from the WHO, the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health.  

"I just want to reassure people we're monitoring it. We're getting great information from the true experts in the fields so we can stay informed and evolve our university strategy as we move forward," she said.

Coronavirus symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. General health tips for limiting exposure to illnesses include regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and getting sufficient rest, exercise and healthy food.