Forty international students attending Stony Brook University on Long Island are among United States-bound travelers who haven't been able to leave China since the government placed cities on lockdown to control the coronavirus spread, school officials said Wednesday.
A professor at the same school, who also had been stranded in the country at the epicenter of the virus outbreak, managed to make it back to American soil Wednesday. His name has not been released.
The students attempting to return to classes contacted the school saying they cannot fly back for the new spring semester, according to the school. Classes started Monday.
Stony Brook has staff available "to assist students who have not yet made the trip from China," the school stated on its website.
"Since the duration of current travel guidelines are frequently updated," the statement went on, "it is unknown when our students who have not yet returned will be permitted to return."
The school alerted faculty not to penalize those students.
The Stony Brook professor was among a group of 195 Americans who returned on a charter flight, officials said. They landed at March Air Reserve Base in California.
The coronavirus has sickened thousands of people and been responsible for more than 100 deaths in China since the outbreak started last month. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus can cause mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms that include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
There are five confirmed cases in the United States and no fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are 92 suspected cases being investigated across the nation. The virus has spread to 19 countries, officials said.
The New York State Health Department said none of the confirmed cases are in the state. Officials said the agency has sent samples from 11 individuals in New York to the CDC for testing. Seven tested negative and four are pending. One of those involved a person who was “passing through” Nassau County and subsequently tested negative for the virus.
“The immediate health risk to the general American public is still considered low,” said Dr. Brian Harper, chief medical officer of the Academic Health Centers at New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury. “This is a new virus and we have to be cautious about what could potentially happen.”
On its website, Stony Brook boasts the number of Chinese students on campus has been growing. In 2018, there were 2,554 Chinese students enrolled at the school.
The Stony Brook students unable to leave China can request a leave of absence or a late arrival accommodation. They must be back on campus by Feb. 7 and report to class on Feb. 10 to take part in the current semester.
The professor had been visiting family in Wuhan, where the outbreak is centered, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had been working to help him return. He and the other passengers on the plane will undergo three days of testing and monitoring, the CDC said.
"It is welcome news to know that the U.S. State Department has worked diligently to bring the SBU professor back to the United States, and that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will ensure all Americans aboard the flight are guided through next steps to safeguard public health,” Schumer said in a statement.
The university said Tuesday in a statement that the employee and his family are "grateful for the assistance and support" from Schumer's office.