Alabama students, professor possibly exposed to coronavirus on study abroad trip

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Angie Smith worries her husband, Robert Smith, a professor at the University of Alabama traveling abroad with 40 graduate students as part of the school’s MBA program, may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I’m worried,” Smith said. “I’m a nervous wreck.”

She said it makes her angry that it seems every other university with study abroad programs has suspended or canceled travel to China and other areas with a heightened risk of the coronavirus virus.

Smith said her husband and other students are expected to return this weekend after traveling to South Korea and Cambodia. The group departed the U.S. on Feb. 20 and was supposed to stay in Seoul until Tuesday, but left a day early due to the coronavirus threat and flew to Phnom Penh, she said.

“The university is doing a good job of keeping this group on the down low and making sure word does not get out that they allowed this trip to continue in spite of the risk,” she said.

Smith said the trip was not optional for her husband. CBS 42’s Cory McGinnis found evidence of Angie Smith’s claim within an email correspondence between her husband and the director of the MBA program.

“Robert, the trip is a requirement for the course and is non-refundable,” the email read. “When we have not had someone go it has been for medical reasons or birth of a child.”

According to Smith, her husband was the sole faculty member on the trip.

“The university normally has four to give administrators travel with the group, but mysteriously, they all decided at the last minute not to travel with the group,” she said. “If someone tests positive for the virus upon returning from this trip, it will be hard to keep this under wraps…I feel that the U.S. deserves to know that a large university is not looking out for the safety of its students.”

The school responded with a statement on its policies and procedures about safety:

“University officials carefully monitor federal and other guidance, including information provided by the World Health Organization, Department of State, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The University and UA System have comprehensive plans to address issues that may affect our student populations, including infectious disease. Plans address travelers and include comprehensive traveler notification and assistance services in the countries in which they are traveling.”​

We reached out to the University of Alabama dean for comment and, as of Thursday morning, have not yet received a response.

“I just want my family back together and safe, no coronavirus,” Smith said.


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