There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean it’s not affecting this state. On Tuesday, Feb. 25 parents of Elon University students studying abroad in Florence, Italy were informed that the program was being suspended and all the students would be returning home.

The email to parents began: “Dear Florence students and families, Given the continued evolution of the novel coronavirus situation in Italy, including the appearance of cases in Tuscany, Elon has decided to suspend the Florence program for the semester. Students will complete their coursework remotely…”

The letter went on to say that the university realized this would come as “a surprise and disappointment” and added that the decision wasn’t made lightly. It also stated that the health and safety of the students is always the school’s top priority.

The virus – thought to be deadly in about 2 percent of the cases – began in China and was spreading rapidly on Tuesday including the progression of major outbreaks in South Korea and Italy. The implications of the now worldwide virus are being felt in the United States though so far the number of cases in this country has been manageable. Stockholders, for instance, saw the Dow Jones industrial average plunge 870 points following an even worse drop on Monday, Feb. 24.

According to information sent to Elon parents, the risk of students being infected is still low but they need to come home while they still can.

“While we continue to believe the health risk to students in Florence remains low,” the letter states, “the decision takes into consideration the possibility of local and international travel restrictions if the coronavirus continues to spread.”

The university informed parents that students were expected to make their own arrangements for leaving Florence and the students were instructed to return to their homes no later than Friday, Feb. 28. Elon also advised students to hurry up and make travel plans since other universities were also canceling programs and flights could be full.

Elon is refunding the cost of an economy-class ticket home.

The letter adds, “Elon students are not obligated to attend classes on Wednesday, though the school is open, and students are invited to take a moment to say farewell to the administrators and faculty at the school.”