Coronavirus Outbreak Prompts University of Michigan to Prohibit Undergrads From School-Related Travel to Hubei Province, China

As cases of a new strain of coronavirus increase, the University of Michigan prohibited undergraduates from participating in school-related travel to the Chinese province where the virus originated.

Thousands of people have tested positive for the new strain, temporarily named 2019-nCoV, and cases have been confirmed in 10 countries. In most cases, patients have experienced mild symptoms, but the virus can cause pneumonia and more than 50 cases have resulted in death.

While 2019-nCoV raised concerns about a widespread global outbreak, on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee said it didn't constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Officials warned that it could become a PHEIC in the future and urged countries and individuals to take precautionary measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

UM placed the entire province of Hubei under a travel restriction on Friday, completely prohibiting undergraduates from visiting for UM-related travel. Graduate students could still visit the province but were required to have a safety plan approved by the international travel oversight committee.

The safety plan, according to UM, had to show students were aware of the health risks, have strategies to stay safe and were prepared to shelter in place if China imposed travel restrictions.

On Thursday, Didier Houssin, chair of the WHO committee, said during a press conference, that one of the reasons committee members were reluctant to declare the outbreak a PHEIC was because of the steps China already took to contain the virus. Strict travel restrictions were among those measures implemented by the Chinese government.

university of michigan hubei province travel coronavirus
A nurse waits for transportation as she re-enters the city to return to Wuhan Yaxin General Hospital, on one of the roads blocked by the police to restrict people leaving Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Saturday, during a deadly virus outbreak which began in the city. On Friday, the University of Michigan prohibited undergraduates from traveling to the Hubei province and required them to have approved plans to travel to other areas of China. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty

Chinese authorities suspended air and rail travel in the area around Wuhan that could prevent people from entering or exiting parts of the Hubei province. On Friday, transportation was shut down in Wuhan and at least 13 cities in the Hubei province, according to NBC News.

The State Department warned American citizens that additional restrictions could be put into effect with "little or no advanced notice." The U.S. government had "limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province," according to a State Department travel advisory.

UM also placed the entire country of China under a "travel warning," meaning students could continue with travel plans to areas outside of Hubei province if they had an approved ITOC safety plan. Any student who planned to submit a safety plan was encouraged to do so a minimum of three weeks before they planned to depart.

Newsweek reached out to the University of Michigan and was directed to the travel restriction website.

The majority of the cases of the virus have been within China's borders, but, as of Monday, five cases were identified in the United States, all involving people who recently traveled to Wuhan.

Michigan hasn't had any confirmed cases, but three individuals in Washtenaw County, where UM's main campus is located, have been tested for the virus. Two of those cases, according to Washtenaw County, came back as negative and one is still pending.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to get states their own testing system, however, at present, the agency is the only one who can conduct the tests. More than 25 states have sent specimens to be tested and Washtenaw County expected results to be returned within several days.

Until the results can be confirmed to be negative, the patient will be held in isolation. The two individuals who tested negative in Washtenaw County were released from isolation.