University of St. Thomas announces Rome campus closure in midst of rising virus cases

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Friday, the University of St. Thomas announced it is closing its campus in Rome for the remainder of the spring semester due to the rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy.

In a statement, Richard Plumb, university executive vice president and provost, said the St. John Vianney/Catholic Studies Rome semester will be canceled in the midst of the Bernardi campus closure.

According to the university, 47 students are part of the Catholic Studies and St. John Vianney programs in Rome.

"While our students are not yet at a high level of health risk, there is an increasing risk that they will be unable to travel freely," Plumb said in the statement. "We believe it is in the best interests of our students to leave Rome before the ability to do so is severely or completely restricted."

University officials are making arrangements for the students currently enrolled in the program to return to the United States. Those students will be able to complete their classes online, according to the university.

"We were watching it very closely especially in northern Italy, getting concerned about it moving to Rome, in particular, we started getting nervous when we started thinking about our students getting stuck there," Karen Lange, vice president of student affairs, said.

Rose Winkels is the parent of a student enrolled in the program, and she said she agrees with the decision.

"As hard as it is, I think St. Thomas made the right decision," Winkels said. "They have to keep the students safe and take all the precautionary measures … I think now they are very safe … and that’s what makes it hard."

The announcement is in the midst of schools across the United States canceling study abroad programs and preparing online course options as federal officials warn that the COVID-19 virus, which started in China, is almost certain to begin spreading in the U.S.

Many administrators are preparing for possible school closures that could stretch weeks or longer.

US schools start planning for possible spread of coronavirus

KSTP’s complete COVID-19 coverage