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Amherst High students in voluntary quarantine following trip to Italy

A group of students and a teacher at Amherst Central High School are in voluntary quarantine following a trip they took over winter break to Italy, one of the countries that has seen widespread transmission of COVID-19.

Twelve students and the teacher chaperone were back in school for more than a week after returning from their trip, Amherst Superintendent Anthony Panella said. But they were asked, and they agreed, to stay home after federal health officials recently added Italy to the list of countries that people should avoid visiting because of concerns over the novel coronavirus.

Panella said none has shown symptoms of the coronavirus and the steps taken in consultation with officials from the Erie County Health Department were done out of an abundance of caution.

"The Department of Health actually does this as a precautionary measure," Panella said in an interview. "It wasn't prompted by symptoms or any testing."

The Amherst Central School District has provided updates on the situation to parents, but the letter sent on Wednesday – and posted on the district website – provides few details.

The students traveled to Italy as part of a long-standing exchange program Amherst High School has with a school in the northern Italian city of Bolzano, Panella said.

The group also visited Rome and Florence during their trip, which began Feb. 5 and ended with their return Feb. 22.

Panella said district officials were keeping a close eye on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus-related travel guidelines.

It wasn't until Friday that the CDC recommended Americans avoid all nonessential travel to Italy and, if they do need to travel there, to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days after returning.

Panella said he received notice of the new guidelines on Monday and reached out to the Erie County Health Department to inform them of the situation with the students and teacher.

The students and teacher went to school the week of Feb. 24 and Monday and Tuesday of this week before county health officials determined they should leave school until the 14-day period for self monitoring symptoms ends. The voluntary quarantine began Wednesday, the superintendent said.

Panella said all 12 of the students and the teacher agreed to stay home. The 14-day period would end on Sunday, Panella said, and if the group remains symptom-free they would be allowed to return to the high school on Monday.

He said he has no reason to believe that the group put their classmates at risk by attending school during the 14-day window.

Panella said he has deliberately tried not to reveal information that would identify the students or teacher but he has tried to prevent the spread of rumors.

"It's a fluid situation, so we continue to take our guidance from the CDC and the Department of Health," Panella said.

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