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Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is among a rapidly growing list of institutions canceling major events and pushing students from campus in favor of distance learning and precautionary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus that appears to be highly transmissible.
Among the events canceled is the 50th annual SAVMA Symposium, a gathering of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association that was set to draw 900 veterinary students from around the country this weekend to Cornell's campus in Ithaca, New York. Registrants will be provided access to the lectures online.
Pulling the plug on large gatherings has become common with the global spread of the new coronavirus. Meetings and events are being canceled left and right, from NBA games to a roundtable titled "Doing Business Under Coronavirus" that was supposed to, but now won't, take place in New York Friday, according to a media report.
Cornell is closing campus to most students following spring break, which begins Saturday for veterinary students and on March 28 for undergraduates. When classes resume, first- and second-year veterinary students will remain at their permanent residences and attend online lectures. Third- and fourth-year students who are in clinical rotations are to stay on campus and proceed as normal.
"We strongly encourage all of our students, when they get home, to practice social distancing there and to avoid large events and gatherings until this pandemic has settled down," Cornell University President Martha Pollack said in a statement issued Wednesday.
While the actions aren't universal, several other veterinary colleges reported taking similar cautionary measures, using time during spring break to figure out the logistics of transitioning from in-person classes to remote learning. In a statement posted online today, Kansas State University President Richard B. Myers noted that if everyone returns to campus when spring break ends Monday, "the risk of spreading novel coronavirus will increase."
"The concept of social distancing has been shown to slow a disease outbreak during times of concern with pandemics," he said.
For that reason, Myers is suspending all in-person classes until March 23, after which they'll be taught remotely until further notice. Veterinary students involved in clinical rotations or clinical work will receive guidance from the college on how to proceed, he said.
The VIN News Service could not immediately reach the veterinary program for clarification.
Students at The Ohio State University were told this week not to return to campus at the end of spring break on Monday, and classes will be delivered online until at least March 30. The order exempted fourth-year veterinary students in clinical rotations, who will be allowed to continue with their studies on campus.
Reflecting the swiftly changing nature of events, an OSU official said today that plans might be altered shortly. "Things, you know, are quickly evolving and we're likely to have some changes going into effect today," said Allison Burk, communications and marketing specialist. As of noon, though, she said, "Right now we really don't have anything we can share."
Across the country, efforts to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, which appeared late last year in Wuhan, China, are evolving in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration Wednesday that COVID-19 is a global pandemic.
New infection and mortality figures put the number of infected patients at more than 118,000 in 114 countries; some 4,300 people have lost their lives, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, during a press conference. Raising the alarm on COVID-19, he goaded governments to take the virus seriously and chided some for "alarming levels of inaction.”
"In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased thirteenfold, and the number of infected countries has tripled,” he said.
President Donald Trump followed Wednesday night with sweeping temporary restrictions on travel to the U.S. from 26 European states known as the Schengen Area in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. The countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The U.S. travel ban does not include England, where the British Small Animal Veterinary Association is scheduled to hold its annual BSAVA Congress on April 2-5 at the Birmingham International Convention Centre and Arena.
A statement on the show's website as of 5 p.m. EDT today said that "business is continuing as usual."
"We are monitoring and following the UK government advice," the statement said. "Unless anything changes and the World Health Organization or government advise otherwise, all events are running as planned."
VIN News could not determine whether those plans are being re-evaluated in light of the WHO's declaration. Phone calls to BSAVA offices were not returned.
Others with upcoming veterinary conferences say they're monitoring the situation, too. Officials with CloserStill Media, producers of Austin Vet 2020, slated for April 20-22 in Austin, Texas, and Chicago Vet, scheduled for May 13-15 in Navy Pier, Chicago, said in an email notice today that they're "keeping a close eye" on what happens with COVID-19.
"The health and safety of our community is of paramount importance and as a result, out of an abundance of caution, we are exploring all options in respect to the timing of our upcoming events ..." the notice said. "This is a developing situation and we are doing our utmost to offer clear communication on an ongoing basis as matters evolve. We will ensure that all relevant parties receive information as expediently as possible regarding any changes in the coming days."
The Australian Veterinary Association said Monday that all of its conferences and events will continue as planned, including the 2020 AVA Annual Conference, May 10-15 in Gold Coast, Queensland.
The association plans to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in Australia as the meeting date nears. "The health and safety of AVA's delegates, attendees, exhibitors and sponsors remains one of our top priorities," the AVA said in an online statement.
Update: The BSAVA Congress 2020 is canceled, according to a notice published on March 13.