UM takes precautionary measures in wake of novel coronavirus

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As the coronavirus disease continues to spread both domestically and abroad, the University of Miami has taken many preventative actions to stop the outbreak from affecting its students.

In its most recent update released on March 5, the university stated, “Following the latest developments in the global spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the related public health guidelines, the University of Miami is implementing additional changes to its travel policies and global academic programs.”

This includes requiring students in UM-sponsored study abroad programs to return home if the CDC COVID-19 status in their program country reaches Level 3, meaning travelers should avoid all non-essential trips to that area, or if the UM has suspended their program, the university stated.

Those returning from COVID-19 Level 3 areas will be required to self-quarantine off-campus for 14 days before they are able to return back to UM. The same procedures will be followed for any student who travels to a Level 3-designated area during spring break.

UM has already suspended all study abroad programs in Italy, and programs in China, South Korea and Japan set to start later this semester have been cancelled.

Natalie Mastalerz, a sophomore psychology major, was planning to study abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo. After she received an email from the study abroad office on Feb. 28, her plans quickly changed.

“I was unpleasantly surprised and upset,” Mastalerz said. “UM told us they’d be monitoring the situation, and Sophia had just told us that the semester is going ahead as planned, so the cancellation email was unexpected.”

As of now, Mastalerz doesn’t know what her academic plans will be. She said there are talks of taking classes online since it’s too late to register for classes at UM.

“I would love to try to study abroad again, but considering the academic disruption that missing this semester is creating, I don’t know if I’ll be able to fit it in to my schedule,” Mastalerz said.

Naomi Feinstein, a junior at UM majoring in journalism and political science, was studying abroad in Florence with Syracuse University when her trip was cut short. A week after the Venice Carnival, Feinstein and other students of the program were gathered for an emergency meeting and they were told that their program had been suspended, and that they needed to leave Italy or risk being quarantined.

“When it started happening, I wasn’t particularly worried because Florence is in the Tuscany region, which is south of Milan and Venice, the major epicenters of the virus” Feinstein said.

When the program was cancelled, Feinstein said she thought it felt very premature because there was only one case of coronavirus in the region at the time.

Now looking back, Feinstein said, “It was probably the right thing to do.”

Feinstein will finish off her classes online starting March 16. She is currently traveling around Europe with five of her friends before returning to her home of South Florida by the end of March.

In addition, domestic and international spring break trips and programs have been cancelled, including UM Alternative Breaks.

“The university has determined that it was necessary to cancel all UM Alternative Break programs due to the safety and wellbeing of our students,” said Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “Due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus both internationally and domestically, we determined it would be best that our students not travel to sites as travel restrictions could potentially change in the coming days/week.”

In its place, the Butler Center for Service and Leadership will be offering an alternative community service option in South Florida from Sunday, March 8 to Wednesday, March 11.

“I’m really sad that the UMAB trips have been cancelled, but I understand the university’s reasoning behind suspending the trips,” said Aileen Cruz-Lezama, a junior majoring in microbiology and immunology. “Thankfully, the Butler Center and the UMAB e-board have been amazing in their response to the cancellation by working efficiently to provide an alternative experience here in Miami.”

Those students whose UMAB trips were cancelled for spring break will have priority during fall registration, Whitely said.

At this time, there are no known coronavirus cases at the University of Miami. However, in Florida, there are 12 known cases of the novel coronavirus, with an additional five Florida residents testing positive while visiting other countries. There have been two reported deaths.

The university will continue to provide updates online at

Anna Timmons and Inés Eisenhour contributed to the reporting.