Gonzaga in Florence (GIF) has made the decision to suspend academic operations effective immediately and send students home, according to a recent email sent out on Wednesday by Provost and Senior Vice President Deena J. González.

This action is in response to recent outbreaks of COVID-19, more commonly referred to as coronavirus, in Italy and following the actions of Florence campuses such as Kent State and New York University.

An email sent to GIF students and families states that access to pensiones (student dormitories) and homestays will close on March 6 for the remainder of the semester. Additionally,  a “plan for the continuation and completion of current academic courses” will be communicated to students on that same date.

“I can only echo, with my own sense of sadness, the Provost's message about the closure of Gonzaga in Florence Spring 2020 semester,” said Jason Houston, GIF director, in another email sent to students. “Your safety and security has always been our first concern, and I am confident this decision is the best for all of you. On behalf of the GIF staff, we are sorry that our time has to end so soon, and we will always welcome you back to GIF as alumnus/a of our program."

Students are being asked to return home to their permanent addresses. It is currently unclear whether GIF or GU will be paying for students' flights home.

"Because each student’s situation is unique, we will be working with each of them to address their specific needs," said Mary Joan Hahn, GU's head of public relations. "We will continue to develop and evaluate the financial impact of this evolving circumstance over the coming weeks."

The announcement comes a day after GIF staff advised students to avoid traveling to regions of Northern Italy where cases of the virus were documented such as Veneto and Lombardy.

Originating in Asia, recent outbreaks in those regions and throughout Europe led to travel advisories and public facility closures in multiple municipalities. The school also canceled its school trip to Krakow, Poland, planned for March 12-15, due to an ordinance from the Italian prime minister.

“We do not know how widespread this virus will become, but as more individuals are diagnosed, municipalities are moving to contain the virus by closing schools, public places, and in some cases suspending travel by train,” González said in the email. “Our first priority is the safety and security of our students, and over the past 48 hours we have become increasingly concerned that by continuing our program in Florence, we will not be able to assure an appropriate degree of safety or access to services. Further, we do not know when this situation will stabilize.”

GIF students are on their spring break, and many were traveling outside of Italy at the time of the announcement. The email sent to students said those who wished to fly to the states without returning to Florence first can have their belongings packaged and mailed home for them by GIF staff.

“We understand that this decision is a difficult one and presents an unexpected set of challenges to manage,” González said. “Therefore, we will be working not only with our colleagues in Florence but asking members of our faculty, staff and student community for assistance as well, with the request that in this extraordinary circumstance we come together to support our Gonzaga in Florence students, families and colleagues.”

This story is developing. More information will be provided as it emerges.

Connor Gilbert is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @ConnorJGilbert.

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