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Cuomo: SUNY students called back from countries with coronavirus outbreaks

Seventeen Western New York college students are among the 300 SUNY and CUNY students studying abroad in countries hit hard by novel coronavirus whom Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered Wednesday to return home.

Instead of seeing art masterpieces in Italy or touring ancient Japanese temples, Cuomo offered them another once-in-a-lifetime experience: 14 days of mandatory quarantine once they're back in New York.

Cuomo said students studying abroad in China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan will be brought back on charter flights to Stewart International Airport in Orange County, and then they will be housed in dormitory-like facilities for two weeks. Iran was later dropped when, it turns out, there are no SUNY students there and SUNY says it has no students in China this semester.

State university officials said the quarantine will be mandatory once the students touch back down on U.S. soil.

A state official said the state is looking to quarantine them in Western New York, Long Island and the Utica/Rome area.

Hours after Cuomo's announcement, his office and SUNY were not providing answers to questions about the effort, such as how it will limit the academic or financial impact on the students, who is paying for the charter flights and room and board at the quarantine locations, and how and when the plan will be activated.

Officials also won't say where the quarantine sites will be other than on some undisclosed SUNY locations where there are now excess dorm capacity.

SUNY officials say the logistics are still being worked out, and the system is working with two other state agencies on academic and financial issues, but that expenses will be not be covered by the students. "The State, SUNY and CUNY are working to ensure students will not suffer any adverse consequences, beginning with their health and safety," SUNY said in a statement.

[Related: More WNYers could be quarantined as coronavirus cases multiply]

SUNY said it has 260 students who will be affected by the decision. The bulk of them – about 200 – are studying in Italy, with more than three dozen in South Korea and about 18 in Japan.

The governor's announcement affects nine students from the University at Buffalo, eight in programs in Italy and one in South Korea.

SUNY Fredonia has five students studying abroad in Italy, according to Jeff Woodard, director of marketing and communications.

SUNY Buffalo State had already initiated efforts to return three students from affected countries, two from Italy and one from South Korea.

"All three students are healthy and are not known to have any symptoms — but out of an abundance of caution, they have been instructed to self-quarantine away from campus for a period of 14 days upon their return to the United States," SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner said in a message to students, faculty and staff.

She said the college is continuing to monitor seven students who are studying in the United Kingdom and Australia.

“This is an extraordinary gesture by the governor," UB President Satish K. Tripathi said in a news release. "The UB community appreciates the governor’s efforts to help the university keep our students safe."

[Q&A: As fears hit Western New York, how worried should you be?]

At UB, the spring study abroad program is listed as having programs available at four colleges in Italy, four in Japan, one in China and one in South Korea.

“Out of an abundance of caution, SUNY and CUNY study abroad programs in the highest impacted study countries will be suspended effective immediately and all students and staff will return to New York to be in a 14-day quarantine," Cuomo said.

The plan is based on federal guidelines regarding travel to China, where the virus began, and the other countries that have seen especially high virus rates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to China, South Korea and Italy. The agency also recommends older adults and people with chronic health conditions should reconsider travel to Japan.

“We will provide students with financial and academic resources and work to minimize any disruption today’s action may cause, while we work aggressively with all our partners at the local, state and federal level to protect our entire campus communities," SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson said in a written statement.

The returning students, according to state health department guidelines, will be screened and then transported to SUNY campus dormitories in several locations. SUNY said state and local health agencies will monitor the students at the quarantine sites and the students – facing disruption two months into their spring semester – will be offered remote course study.

Additionally, SUNY and CUNY are also canceling campus-sponsored travel to any of the five virus-plagued nations for the rest of the spring semester.

SUNY officials were working Wednesday morning to provide additional details about the logistics of the charter flights, including when the students will return, as well as regional breakdowns for what college students will be most affected by the order to return to New York.

Elizabeth Garvey, a special counsel to Cuomo, said private colleges in New York, some of which have already brought students back from overseas, are being contacted to ensure they have followed "good home isolation" protocols for those students.

[Related: Canisius College advises students abroad to 'return home immediately']

Buffalo State is reviewing plans to provide interim housing over the summer for international students who may not be allowed to return home because of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus, Conway-Turner said in the message to students and staff.

"While these are trying times domestically for all of us, many of our international students have been enduring the stress of this situation without family members to lean on," she said.

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