Illustration Teddy Baylón
Editor’s note: The story was updated on March 10 to correctly identify Ruby Anahy Franco.
The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has suspended all university-sponsored travel to regions with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travel Health Notice Warning Level 2 or above or a coronavirus State Department Travel Advisory Level 3 or above, according to an email from the President’s Office.
With less than a week until spring break, UTEP is requiring all students, faculty and staff traveling for personal reasons to a country with a Level 2 travel notice or a Level 3 travel advisory to inform UTEP’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS) using an online form.
“Members of UTEP who have personal travel plans are advised to weigh the necessity of their planned travel,” DEHS’s website reads.
A Level 2 travel notice is designated to countries for which “enhanced precautions” need to be practiced by travelers in order to avoid risk of infection, CDC’s website. A Level 3 travel advisory is designated to countries for which travel should be reconsidered due to “serious risks to safety and security,” according to the Department of State’s website.
Ruby Anahy Franco, a 24-year-old UTEP graduate of art, looks to fulfill her childhood dream of visiting Japan, now currently at Level 2 risk of coronavirus, and has dedicated the past few years to planning a trip.
“(Ever since) graduating (from) UTEP and finding a job, I have been saving $1,000 every month from my paycheck. Last year, in December, I finally saved enough money to buy a ticket for me and my younger brother,” Franco said. “It has been a tough decision to make. I have been hesitant each day. I feel positive and excited one minute, and then I feel scared and disappointed the next.”
Franco said Japan’s shutdown has not affected her itinerary. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzō Abe, announced March 2 that more measures to counter the virus will be announced March 10, according to Japan Today.
“I will already be in Japan by then, so I guess I’ll find out a little too late,” Franco said.
Coronavirus (Covid-19) surfaced late last year in China but has already spread internationally. According to the World Health Organization, more than 100,000 cases and 3,809 deaths have been confirmed worldwide.
Among the trips canceled is the Humanities Program’s “Layers of Rome.” Every year for 15 years, Ronald Weber, associate professor of history and western cultural heritage at UTEP, and John Leo De Frank, a lecturer for UTEP’s Humanities Program, have hosted a two-week trip to Rome to learn about Roman history, art and culture, according to the program’s website.
“I write with a heavy heart. The threat level from the coronavirus in Italy has exceeded the level three danger,” Weber said in an announcement forwarded to students. “Consequently, the university has had no choice but to suspend all university-sponsored events and groups traveling to Italy.”
Due to the virus’ unpredictability, Weber and De Frank are unable to give any certainty as to the trip being rescheduled for later this year.
German Rosas-Acosta, an associate professor at UTEP in biological sciences working with the Influenza virus for about 15 years, gives insight into COVID-19.
“If you are going through an area where transmission is happening, I think that’s not a smart choice right now,” Rosas-Acosta said. “You’d be dependent on your health status … but facing the possibility of being put in quarantine when coming back.”
Those traveling will also be required by UTEP to self-isolate for 14 days before going back to work or school, even if no symptoms are showing, according to DHES’s website. Self-isolation guidelines are available in the CDC’s website.
No announcement has been made about the stay of UTEP students currently studying abroad.
Acosta does not recommend the use of facemasks. Since they are not fitted against the user’s face, they are not effective in the prevention of the virus.
“The masks should be used to prevent dissemination, not as a way to prevent infection,” Rosas-Acosta said.
For more information about the virus, visit who.int/coronavirus, cdc.gov/coronavirus and www.utep.edu/coronavirus.
Sven Kline and Marisol Chávez may be reached at [email protected]