UB Not Restricting Student Enrollment, Study Abroad or Faculty and Staff Travel in Light of SARS

Task force named to monitor situation, educate university community

By Arthur Page

Release Date: June 20, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo will continue to admit and enroll students from SARS-affected countries and will not restrict travel by faculty and staff to these countries by withholding university funding, according to new policies developed by the Task Force on SARS and approved on Monday by Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi.

Under the policy, UB also will not cancel study-abroad programs in SARS-affected countries unless there is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-imposed travel advisory for the country. In the event there is a travel alert for the country-a less-serious designation-the program will proceed and it will be left to students to decide if they wish to participate.

Renewed anxiety on campus following the recent resurgence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Toronto, as well as concerns expressed by some members of the university community about students who will be coming to UB in the fall from SARS-affected countries, prompted UB to establish the task force to monitor the SARS situation worldwide and develop policy recommendations to protect the health and safety of faculty, staff and students, says Stephen C. Dunnett, vice provost for international education.

Dunnett notes there are about 800 students from SARS-affected countries-China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada-currently enrolled at UB who are expected to continue their studies in the fall. Another 1,000 have been admitted for the fall semester, although he acknowledged it is unknown at this time how many actually will enroll.

He notes that plans by 15-25 librarians to travel to Toronto this weekend to attend the American Library Association's annual meeting fueled some concerns among staff in the University Libraries.

"Some people have these fears, real or imagined" he says. "As a teacher and an educator, it's my duty and our responsibility to try to help people understand what this disease is, how it's transmitted and what the risks (of contracting it) are."

Dunnett points out that "it's not easy to catch this disease," and in all documented cases, those who became ill with SARS were infected either through a hospital, through a relative who was in a hospital or via a health-care worker. There are no documented cases of tourists becoming infected with SARS after attending a performance of the "Lion King" in Toronto, riding the subway, having dinner in a restaurant or engaging in any other incidental activity, he adds.

"Our CDC is pretty rigid and strict. They would put a travel ban, which is called a travel advisory, on Toronto so fast your head would spin if they thought there was any danger," he says. He explains that the current travel alert on Toronto, does not advise against travel, but informs travelers of a health concern and provides advice about specific precautions.

Richard V. Lee, a professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases and serves as medical consultant to the Office of International Education, as well as a member of the task force, echoes Dunnett's comments, stressing that "people need to be smart, not scared."

Lee calls the risk of someone getting SARS while attending a meeting or passing through an airport "really tiny," and that those who have acquired the disease have been in "fairly close and repetitive contact" with someone else who was ill.

Dunnett says the task force-which includes two other physicians besides Lee-essentially has followed CDC guidelines in drawing up the UB policy. The CDC has recommended against a ban on students from SARS-affected countries, and further, does not recommend a 10-day mandatory waiting period or a mandatory screening upon arrival for these students, he says. These students will be asked to self-monitor for symptoms of the disease, both before and after arrival in the U.S.

The CDC also will guide whether UB holds study-abroad programs in SARS-affected countries, Dunnett says. The university cancelled all summer overseas programs in these countries, and evacuated all students in China once a travel advisory went into effect in April, he says.

Moreover, whether programs set to start in the fall go forward also will depend on CDC travel notices, he says. For example, if the CDC still has a travel advisory in effect for China as of mid-July, when a final decision about whether to hold study-abroad programs must be made, the program will be cancelled. However, if the advisory is downgraded to an alert, the program will be held, but the decision will be left to students as to whether or not they will participate.

As far as faculty and staff working overseas, the university would not send any new persons to SARS-affected countries if there were travel advisories in effect, but would not necessarily recall those who already were overseas, he says.

Dunnett notes that in addition to setting university policy regarding SARS, a major objective of the task force is to inform the university community about the disease and reassure people that the university is doing everything possible to prevent an outbreak and is fully prepared to deal with one, should it occur. Among the activities of the Education and Public Relations Subcommittee of the task force will be to prepare and distribute fact sheets on SARS, beef up the health sessions offered at orientation for all incoming students, give presentations on SARS around campus and send a revised letter to all incoming international students, detailing what disease is, what the symptoms are and what precautions should be taken.

The Office of International Education has created a Web, http://wings.buffalo.edu/intled/sars.html, to provide the university community with the latest information on SARS.

The task force also has formed subcommittees to address "Immediate Issues," including possible changes in policy if the SARS situation were to change, and a "Public Health Preparedness Plan" to address what would happen if an outbreak of SARS occurred at UB.

In addition to Dunnett and Lee, members of the task force include Dennis R. Black, vice president for student affairs; Frank P. Carnevale, director for health services; Kathy L. Curtis, associate director of the English Language Institute; Ellen A. Dussourd, director of International Student and Scholar Services; Sandra J. Flash, director of the Study Abroad Programs, and Kerry S. Grant, vice provost for academic affairs.

Also, Mitchell L. Green, executive director of the Faculty Student Association; John M. Grela, director of university police; Joseph J. Hindrawan, director for international enrollment management; James L. Jarvis, Jr., director of employee relations, State Payroll Services, and Joseph J. Krakowiak, director of university residence halls and apartments.

Also, Janice A. Nersinger, director overseas training programs; Arthur H. Page, director of news services; Joseph T. Raab, environmental safety officer, Environment, Health and Safety Services; John A. Sellick Jr., clinical associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and John J. Wood, assistant director of the English Language Institute.