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CMU, Pitt and UPMC Restrict Official Travel To China

Terry Chea
In this Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, photo, Bill Chen stands outside of customs at San Francisco International Airport after arriving on a flight from Shanghai, where he was conducting business and visiting family over the Lunar New Year holiday.

As concerns of a global pandemic amplify, some Pittsburgh institutions are taking precautions against the new coronavirus by restricting travel to China.

The disease, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected some 17,000 Chinese citizens and killed more than 360. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The World Health Organization reports that 146 people outside of China have been infected with the virus, including 11 in the U.S. There has only been one fatality outside of China; a man in the Philippines died over the weekend.

On Sunday, Carnegie Mellon University restricted all official university travel to China.

“This restriction applies only to those traveling to China for university purposes. However, we strongly recommend that those who are planning travel to China for personal reasons reconsider such plans,” said a joint statement from CMU Provost James Garret and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno.

A 2016 report found that of 1,552 first-year students enrolled at CMU’s Pittsburgh campus, 144 were Chinese citizens.

American universities are a major draw to foreign students. According to the Institute of International Education, nearly 370,000 Chinese nationals were students at American colleges and universities during the 2018-19 school year

The University of Pittsburgh told students, staff and faculty on Friday that individuals who are slated to visit China in the coming weeks, “should work to cancel these plans.”

Spokespersons for Point Park and Chatham universties* said there are no planned trips to China in the near future, and Duquesne University spokesperson said, “We know of no student travel to or from China during the semester, nor are we aware of any planned faculty trips there in the short term.”

Carlow University did not respond to a request for comment.

UPMC, western Pennsylvania's largest health system, has also “paused” travel between the U.S. and China. A statement from UMPC International said that, "We continue to communicate with our partners via videoconferencing and other technologies as we advance our hospital project in Chengdu.”

In October 2019, UPMC broke ground on the hospital, in collaboration with Wanda Group, a Bejing-based conglomerate, with holdings that include AMC Theatres and private property development. In an October statement, UPMC said the Chengdu hospital, “is the first of what is expected to be a network of hospitals in major cities across China.”

Allegheny Health Network is not restricting total travel to China, but a spokesperson for the medical system said it is asking, "employees to follow the recommended travel restrictions to the Hubei province of China established by the CDC and World Health Organization until they are lifted." The spokesperson also said AHN wants employees who have traveled to China in the last 14 days to notify the Employee Health office immediately, "so that appropriate assessment of their risk can be determined."*  

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said on Monday reminded Pennsylvanians that the coronavirus threat "remains low" and noted that while there have been 11 coronavirus cases in the US, none are in the commonwealth. None of the states bordering Pennsylvania -- Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware -- have any documented cases.

*This story has been updated with comments from Chatham University and Allegheny Health Network.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.