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Published: Friday, 5/16/2003

SARS hits home on university campuses

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
`If I go back, the first thing they worry about is my health; the second thing is my visa,' says Jianmei He, a University of Toledo graduate student whose parents urge her not to return to China to see them this summer. The United States may create restrictions that bar such students from re-entering the country. `If I go back, the first thing they worry about is my health; the second thing is my visa,' says Jianmei He, a University of Toledo graduate student whose parents urge her not to return to China to see them this summer. The United States may create restrictions that bar such students from re-entering the country.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

Jianmei He, a graduate student at the University of Toledo, planned to go home this summer to visit her parents in China for the first time in three years.

SARS changed her mind.

“I really hoped I could go back to China during this summer,” she said, “but because of SARS, I cannot.

“I miss my parents so much, but they just say, `Please don't come back,'” she said. “If I go back, the first thing they worry about is my health; the second thing they worry about is my visa.”

Like a number of international students studying in this country from countries where Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has broken out, Ms. He decided to play it safe and stay put.

Requests by students from SARS-affected countries to travel are down considerably this summer at UT, according to Stephen Perry, senior director of the office of international student services.

Of the more than 150 students from China, only one has requested to travel this summer, he said.

The concern among many, Mr. Perry said, is that the United States might create restrictions that prevent such students from re-entering the country for the fall semester.

The University of California at Berkeley announced this month it would not admit new students this summer from areas affected by the flu-like disease, affecting hundreds of students. University officials later tempered this stance, however, by saying they would allow 80 of those students to study at Cal-Berkley this summer.

Officials at UT, Bowling Green State University, and Ohio State University said they are watching travel alerts closely but have not restricted the enrollment of international students.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and adapt our policy in accordance with the guidelines by the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the [World Health Organization],” said Shannon Wingard, an Ohio State spokesman.

Some area universities have already made some proactive decisions about potential SARS problems, however.

UT officials will give out thermometers to certain incoming students - those from affected countries or known to have traveled to them, for example - asking them to call in to the student medical center and provide temperature readings for 10 days as a precaution.

“We feel it's just prudent for the university to at least keep this on the radar screen and set up some sort of screening process,” Mr. Perry said.

Ohio State has canceled three study abroad trips scheduled for China. UT and BGSU have not had to cancel any programs abroad because none are operating in SARS-affected countries at this time, officials there said.

At the University of Findlay, which had seven students from China and 52 from Taiwan enrolled this spring, an official said she is not aware of students changing their travel plans because of SARS.

“We haven't really seen a lot of alarm in the students as far as not going home,” said Penny Gerdeman, director of international student recruitment and admissions.

Several universities surveyed, including UT, BGSU and the University of Findlay plan to include information about SARS in their student orientation programs.



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