Spring break has been no day at the beach this year, with many Northsiders canceling plans for fear of catching or being impacted by the coronavirus.
Many locals have abruptly canceled or changed their spring break trips this month, while area schools were monitoring news on the virus to ensure students, parents and faculty members participating in school-sponsored excursions remained safe.
“The wellness of our students is top priority,” said Stephanie Garriga, director of institutional advancement for St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. “It’s very fortunate for us to have an alum with the CDC. We spoke with him last week and he is helping us consider what we need to do on our periphery to keep our community safe.”
The CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of last week, the agency had recommended travelers to avoid all “nonessential” travel to countries including Iran, South Korea and Italy. China, the epicenter of the virus, had been elevated to the highest travel advisory, with the U.S. State Department telling residents not to travel there. Federal officials had also recommended that adults with chronic medical conditions postpone trips to Japan.
Meanwhile at press time, more than 500 cases and 22 deaths related to coronavirus have been reported stateside, including one case in Tennessee.
Jennifer Skipper said her family was planning for months to spend their spring break in Japan. But she and her husband changed their plans at the last minute, due to outbreak concerns.
She spoke to the Sun via cell phone, while she and her family sat at O’Hare International Airport, waiting for their flight to Scotland.
“I think we were concerned with everything surrounding the virus,” she said. “We were worried about having to be quarantined and not being able to get back into the country.
“Then, we were worried about things closing. Two days after we changed our plans, everything closed – Disney, Universal, the National Museum, the Hiroshima Peace Park,” she said. “Everything we were going to do justified our decision.
“We spent nine months planning the trip. I hate it, but it clearly was the right decision.”
Busted plans aside, Skipper is looking at the change of with a positive attitude. “We have an idea of what we want to do, but no firm plans,” she said. “It’s going to be an adventure.”
Emily Hassell, on the other hand, said trying to recover expenses for booking flights, tours and hotels on her family’s trip to Italy have been a nightmare.
Hassell and her family were supposed to leave for Italy on March 5. They were to fly out of Atlanta to Germany, and then fly Lufthansa to Rome, the Italian capital.
They were going to visit her husband’s friend, who is stationed at an air force base there.
As of last week, more than 7,375 people had been reported in Italy’s northern region, and 366 people had died, according to Al Jazeera.
Like Skipper, Hassell said she was worried about the possibility of being quarantined overseas and then at home.
“We’d have to go through temperature checks to leave Italy and possibly Germany to get back to the U.S.,” she said. “We’re not worried about the coronavirus, but with traveling you just don’t know.
“I don’t think it’s worth the risk to get stuck over there for 14 days.”
CDC guidelines recommend that individuals not traveling or coming into contact with others for 14 days after being exposed to the virus, whether those individuals show symptoms or not.
Sharon Silverman’s plans to do medical mission work in India were cancelled as well, also amid concerns of the virus.
Silverman, a nurse practitioner, and her son Jacob were going on the trip as part of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Grenada.
The two had already stocked up on the medical and living supplies they needed for the trip.
Like others, she was more worried about having to be quarantined for nearly two weeks overseas.
“If you’re temperature is 99 degrees or above, or if you have a cough and a running nose, you’re detained,” she said. “We had a 30-day visitor visa. We were supposed to be there 12 days. If the visa runs out, that opens up another can of issues.”
Coronavirus has been reported in nearly 34 states, with major hotspots including California, Washington, Oregon and Texas, according to the New York Times.
The majority of cases in the Lone Star State occurred in San Antonio. In response, the mayor there had declared a state of emergency.
Meanwhile, students from St. Andrew’s were visiting colleges in Texas this spring break.
At press time, no travel advisory had been put in place for Texas, but parents had been notified by the school of the coronavirus outbreak there.
Thirty-seven students, parents and faculty members from Jackson Academy (JA) were visiting Paris over spring break.
No travel advisory had been put in place for France. However, the health minster of France had announced a ban on gatherings of 1,000 people or more, according to a March 9 article in New York Times.
Officials at JA were still “monitoring the developments,” said Director of Marketing and Communications Patti Wade.
“JA has also been in touch with local and regional schools to see what steps those schools are taking with regard to international travel,” she said.
Even with steps being taken by the school, two students had opted not to go on the trip due to coronavirus fears.
Eighteen Jackson Preparatory School students and chaperones spent their spring break in London. They were expected to return Wednesday, March 11, Director of Communications Ryan Sherman said.
Twenty-five students and faculty members from Madison-Ridgeland Academy (MRA) were traveling to California to participate in mission work, while 25 others were traveling to Orlando as part of a school trip.
Students going to California will participate in mission work at Pathway Church, in Redlands.
“We’ve been monitoring the cases where they are and there aren’t any in that area,” said MRA Head of School Termie Land.
Plans by several Northsiders traveling to California to attend the Indian Wells Masters were changed when tennis officials canceled the major tournament. Also, at press time, several music festival were nixed include SXSW in Austin.