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Coronavirus travel restrictions disappoints student spring break trips, international tours

<p>The long-term expansion plan for the Raleigh-Durham International Airport features the creation of a new runway and 23 new terminal gates.</p>

The long-term expansion plan for the Raleigh-Durham International Airport features the creation of a new runway and 23 new terminal gates.

After weeks of planning, students had to scrap their international itineraries for something a little less exciting. 

Even before students knew classes would be suspended and spring break would be extended, students ready to travel over break were anxious about the fate of their carefully-planned trips. 

From American Grand Strategy to men’s club volleyball to club table tennis, several groups on campus had to cancel their long-awaited, University-sponsored spring break plans due to the coronavirus outbreak. All were disappointed, but ultimately understood the reasoning behind such measures.

Junior James Toscano was the main student leader of a week-long tour of Italy with the AGS program, which focuses on national security policymaking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Italy to the list of Level 3 risk countries, urging everyone to “avoid nonessential travel.”

“I trust AGS. I totally trust [Program Coordinator Melanie Benson] and Duke. And I also trust the CDC. I think they made the right call,” Toscano said.

He had begun planning in the summer and was supposed to be flying to Rome on Sunday. As part of the annual staff ride, the group of nearly 50 students, professors and staff would have traveled round-trip from Rome to Anzio to Cassino.

Benson had been monitoring the situation in Italy, the epicenter of the European outbreak. With guidance and consultation from Duke administrative offices, the AGS trip was officially canceled Feb. 28. Just two days later, Duke banned all University-funded travel to Italy.

Several factors aside from the CDC warning contributed to the decision to cancel the trip, even before the University’s announcement. Toscano recalled calls from concerned parents and the fear of participants dropping out, as well as sites and museums on the itinerary closing.

“Of course they were very disappointed,” Benson said. “The student group had put a lot of time and effort into research, as had our team in looking at locations and sites.”

Benson appreciated the support of the emergency response team. She said she was happy to abide by the guidance of the University, who has professional knowledge and judgment on what will keep all students safe.

Despite their disappointment, students acknowledged that the cancellations are for the best and have found other things to do over break. Toscano went home to Orlando, Fla., and visited the Grand Canyon, something he had always wanted to do. The group also considered going out to an Italian dinner.

The trip cancellations are not limited to just AGS. 

Senior Jack Madej, vice president of Duke men’s club volleyball, was excited for the club’s dream trip to Costa Rica for spring break. Dream trips, which happen roughly every four years, allow club sports teams to travel somewhere in the world to “support team bonding and play in other cultures,” Madej said.

In Costa Rica, the team would have played against the San Jose club team and the Costa Rica Men’s National team, as well as many tournaments on the beach. However, March 2, just six days before he was supposed to leave, Madej received notification that the trip was canceled.

“It’s pretty tough, I was really looking forward to it,” Madej said. 

Although the club is looking into reallocating the funds to a trip next year, Madej, a senior, won’t be able to go. 

“It would have been once-in-a-lifetime, but it’s only me and one other person who won’t be able to go next year, so it's good for the club,” he said.

Felicia Tittle, executive director of Recreation & Physical Education, felt the main reason for the cancelation was not just the ever-changing travel restrictions.

“With the rapidly changing situation surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Department of Recreation and Physical Education felt it was in the best interest of our students to cancel all international trips,” Tittle wrote in an email.

Senior Claire Xiao, president of Duke Club Table Tennis, worked with the club to plan their dream trip to Taiwan. That trip was canceled and replaced with a trip to Puerto Rico Thursday Feb. 27 due to coronavirus concerns. The following Monday, the Puerto Rico trip was canceled too. 

“At this point, it’s just sad,” Xiao said. “We spent so much of last semester planning for this trip, and we were doing this for the whole club. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Following cancellations, Duke provided financial assistance for students to travel home, Xiao wrote in an email.

Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh has been working with Emergency Management, Employee and Student Health, Student Affairs, the Provost’s office and senior physicians from the Division of Infectious Diseases to monitor coronavirus as it pertains to the University.

“To date, the moves that have been made are aimed at the ongoing balance of keeping the Duke Community safe, and attempting to minimize disruptions to students, faculty, staff, patients, and visitors,” he wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Since issuing its spring break travel advisory, Duke has extended spring break until March 22, canceled all in-person classes and is transitioning to online classes starting March 23.

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