On Wednesday, Oct. 28, a new campus-wide COVID-19 test result revealed that the University of Dallas Rome campus is nearly free of the coronavirus, with only one remaining case among the 78 students.
Despite the encouraging test results, the semester will end 15 days early, as coronavirus cases continue to increase in Italy and across Europe.
The one student who tested positive for the virus had previously tested negative and is now in isolation on campus. The rest of the fall Rome students were released from quarantine and embarked on long weekend trips.
The most recent test results came after weeks of quarantine on the Rome campus, after an initial campus-wide test showed nearly two-thirds of the campus as positive for the virus after returning from a class trip to Southern Italy on Oct. 11. Days after the initial result, Italian health officials admitted to an error which had mistakenly reversed the results for positive and negative students.
Although the outbreak of coronavirus was contained, Rome program director and dean Dr. Peter Hatlie said that the semester has been modified to send students home early in light of “several new health, safety, and logistic challenges.”
“Instead of finishing the semester on Thursday, December 10th as planned, the semester will finish and campus will be closed on Wednesday, November 25th instead. In other words, the semester will be cut short by fifteen (15) days,” Hatlie said in an Oct. 27 email.
Cases of the coronavirus in Italy have increased by approximately 2,000% since the university decided to go ahead with the semester in August, Hatlie said. In the last month alone, the government has issued six executive orders, which have affected campus activities such as class trips into Rome.
Hatlie said that the likelihood of further restrictions encouraged the university to end the semester early.
The Rome students will not be sent home immediately, according to Hatlie, because the Italian government has made no orders affecting schools, nor has it revoked the students’ study-abroad status.
Furthermore, Hatlie said that the likelihood of coming into contact with an infected person in Italy is roughly equivalent to that of Texas. The students also have exceptional health care options in the area, should such a need arise.
“With a month to go, our students still have a lot of learning and exploring to do in this, one of the great countries of the world in religious, cultural, and historical terms, and we in the Rome Program are committed to student learning as long as our students’ and staff’s health and safety are not compromised,” said Hatlie.
Released from their quarantine, the Romers who tested negative for the virus are divided into three groups, or “bubbles,” with whom they share a floor, travel and dine. Outside their bubble, the students are allowed to gather outside in groups of eight at the most, while following proper social distancing protocols.
Sophomore Joey Bremer said that students went to see the Roman museums on Tuesday, the Scavi tours on Wednesday and then left on Thursday for their weekend trips. These trips were all self-guided, however, because of regulations against class trips.
The university chose different locations for each bubble to travel to each weekend and will compensate each student up to 250 euros, if they follow the recommended trip. If the students do not choose to follow the recommended trip, they are free to travel on their own, but will not be reimbursed.
Bremer traveled with his bubble to Venice this weekend, while the second floor went to Assisi and the third floor went to Florence. The floors are not organized by gender, as they have been in the past, so bubbles are made up of both female and male students.
“We don’t get compensation for our own thing, so most people went [to] the places they recommended. Our north Italy trip was canceled instead of this so most people wanted to see these cities anyways,” said Bremer.
Sophomore Anthony Jones echoed Bremer’s excitement to see Northern Italy.
“The opportunity to explore Northern Italy on our own is something really special, especially with the cities so empty,” said Jones.
Bremer said that some Italians are happy to see the return of tourists, while others are not.
“Venice is a tourist city, and the people have been so so nice and welcoming because they are reliant on tourists, and they haven’t been getting any. The further south you go though, the less welcoming they get,” Bremer said. But he said that Italians are sticking to social distance protocols and that “people will physically push you if you aren’t maintaining social distance.”
Bremer said that the students “weren’t too surprised” when they found out that the semester will be cut short. Despite Hatlie’s words of caution against staying in Europe after the semester ends on Nov. 25, Bremer estimated that a little less than half of the students are currently planning on traveling after the semester ends.
Regardless of what the rest of the semester may hold, Rome students like Bella Libby expressed gratitude for the ability to travel for the time being.
“Fresh air is good after being locked in our rooms for so long!” said Libby.