The University of Dallas Rome campus reported three student cases of COVID-19 this week after returning from a trip in Southern Italy.
The positive students, who all have mild symptoms, are in quarantine while the rest of campus awaits a molecular test, a test that detects the coronavirus’ genetic material, which will be conducted on Sunday. Students who were in close contact with the positive cases, such as roommates and romantic partners, are currently in isolation until they receive a negative test result.
Rome Program Director Dr. Peter Hatlie said that he does not expect that the campus will close.
“Having now reached the halfway point of the semester, we will continue to make all reasonable attempts not only to save the whole semester but above all to afford students and staff a safe and meaningful experience here,” said Hatlie in an email to parents. “There are no immediate plans in place to end the semester and repatriate students early.”
When the 78 Rome students arrived on campus on Sept. 13, they underwent a 14-day quarantine and all tested negative. After the quarantine, they had more freedom to roam about the city and the group took a day-trip into Rome.
The Greece trip, which was scheduled for the beginning of October, was canceled just four days before the trip due to the status of international students in Greek law. In its place, Hatlie organized the “Magna Graecia trip,” which took students through Monte Casino, Sperlonga, Naples, Pompeii and Sicily, from Oct. 2 through Oct. 11.
“We had a wonderful trip,” said Hatlie. Hatlie said that they had beautiful weather and had a lot of time on the beach.
But it was in Palermo, on the final leg of the trip, that some students lost their sense of smell and taste, although they did not have a fever or a cough.
“We were not really confident there was a problem,” said Hatlie. “We went up to Mt. Etna, it was cold up there, we went to the beach the day after. I mean, it was a very, very active trip. People get worn down.”
Nonetheless, they reported the symptoms to the ministry of health and ministry of civil protection as soon as they arrived back in Rome, and tested the seven symptomatic students the next day through a private clinic. Three students and one visitor, who had been on the trip, tested positive. No staff members tested positive or had any symptoms. The local health authority confirmed the positive tests with a molecular test the day after the private test.
The local health authority will test the rest of the campus on Sunday, Hatlie said.
“With that test, we will be able to determine who is positive, who is negative,” he said. Until then, students who tested positive are quarantined, their close contacts are in isolation, and everyone else is maintaining social distancing measures.
In the meantime, the students are occupied with midterm exams, a time in which Hatlie said students would have been on-campus anyway.
“I think that’s helping, that level of concentration,” said Hatlie. “They would have had to get very serious about their studies anyhow.”
Haltie said that, although “ there is nervousness,” in the group, the students also have a sense of optimism and perseverance.
“I asked them before they came to kind of bring their best selves, and they definitely have. It’s a really nice group of young men and women,” said Hatlie. “They rallied” after the greek trip “and I’m hoping for the same right now.”
Jennifer Massicci, assistant director of the Rome program, has been working with Hatlie to communicate changes in the semester to parents.
“Everybody has been thanking us for keeping them up to date,” she said. “It’s only been positive… I think everybody understands that we can’t change the world situation.”
Massicci said that the semester schedule is uncertain at the moment.
“They’re playing it by ear,” Massicci said. “They don’t know what they are going to be doing in a week, two weeks, three weeks from now, a month from now. It all depends on what the Italian health officials say.”
Hatlie said that they will wait until the test results of the whole campus come back to make a judgment on the semester schedule.
“We are gathering information about student mobility within and outside of Italy, just in case it seems in everyone’s interest to insert a break from campus and studies into the semester, and we are awaiting word about rescheduling our trip to Assisi, Florence and Venice. Needless to say, we are also looking at COVID-infection trends closely,” said Hatlie.
Hatlie said the cases on the Rome campus reflect the recent increase in cases in Italy and in Europe overall. According to Hatlie, cases have increased in Italy from 1,458, when students arrived on campus, to 7,332, this week.
“In view of what I was thinking about the semester a month ago when the numbers were really low, I’m super surprised we are where we are at. [However,] in light of what’s going on right now in Italy, I’m not that surprised,” Hatlie said.