Students and faculty who traveled to Italy asked to quarantine themselves after initially attending classes

Washington and Lee University is enforcing a Virginia Department of Health policy that went into effect a week after the individuals returned to Lexington.


Two sophomore students quarantined themselves in a Gaines Hall apartment. Photo by Coleman Martinson.

Coleman Martinson

Eight students and faculty members who traveled to Italy during Washington Break were told by the university to stay home for two weeks due to a global coronavirus outbreak.

The faculty and students notified the university of their travel and were originally allowed to attend classes and resume work as normal. 

But the five professors, two undergraduate students and one law student were told to quarantine themselves for two weeks on Friday, March 6 — one week into the typical two-week quarantine period, after they had already returned to campus and attended classes.

Director of Student Health and Counseling Services Jane Horton said that the quarantine was delayed because the Virginia Department of Health changed its policy a week after the eight people returned to Lexington. 

“We feel like it’s best to err on the side of caution, and we did check with the Department of Health and they wouldn’t let us make an exception for them,” Horton said. “From a public health perspective, it makes sense to follow the current guidelines.” 

Symptoms of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, can take between two to 14 days to appear, and include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, according to the New York Times. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sidney Evans said in an email to the campus community on Friday, March 6 that eight campus members were asked to stay home for 14 days after leaving Italy but that none of them traveled to regions where coronavirus cases have been confirmed.

The two sophomore students were relocated to a Gaines Hall apartment for their self-quarantine. The two-bedroom apartment has an exterior entrance, so the students do not come into contact with other students within the building if they were to leave.

Evans said the professors and law student have been asked to stay at home and monitor their health conditions for the remaining seven days. 

“It feels kind of pointless at this point because we have already been on campus talking to people and going to classes as normal,” said one of the students in quarantine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of their personal health.

The student said they have been using FaceTime to still participate in some of their classes.

“They’ve been very helpful in giving us accommodations and helping us, but it’s putting us at a disadvantage since we can’t go to class,” she said.

Before and during the break, Evans sent two campus-wide emails asking for members of the Washington and Lee community to self-report their travel to the university. 

If you travel to an area of the world over break where the COVID-19 infection is spreading from person to person … you can expect to be quarantined for up to 14 days after your return to watch for signs of infection,” Evans said in the two emails, sent on Thursday, Feb. 20 and Sunday, Feb. 28.

According to emails between the two students quarantined and Evans obtained by the Ring-tum Phi, Evans was aware of their travel to Italy. But since the students did not travel to northern Italy — where the outbreak was originally concentrated — Evans said they wouldn’t need to take health precautions when returning to Lexington.

But that changed a week later with the new Department of Health policy, which Horton communicated in an email on March 6 to the two students. 

“Travelers [to Italy and other level 3 countries] are being advised to stay home and avoid contact with others for 14 days from the time that the person departed the area,” Horton said in the email. “They should not go to work or school.”

The second undergraduate student said they were in class when they received the notification to stay home and limit contact with others.

“Why are we being quarantined when we were in a low risk area?” she said. “There are people that are withholding information and were in a hot spot and aren’t being truthful and they get to go on with their daily lives as normal.”

Horton said the university is aware of other students that attended a conference in Washington, D.C. where “a couple of participants were diagnosed with coronavirus,” but those students don’t need to self-quarantine. 

“We’ve run that information by both the Washington Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Health and both agreed that none of our attendees would need to stay home,” she said. “Right now in Virginia, we can’t test people who come back from those areas and don’t meet the clinical criteria. That may change, but we have to do [testing] through the [Virginia] Department of Health.”

The second undergraduate student said that she and the other sophomore were told to check their temperatures twice a day, and they wear masks and gloves when visitors come to drop off food for them.

“[The health center] has been emailing us everyday if we need anything and offered to pick us up groceries,” she said. “I feel like Dean Evans and Dr. Horton are handling this the best they can.”

The two students said they’re trying to stay occupied as they wait out the remainder of the self-quarantine by focusing on homework and watching TikToks.