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Posted on Mon, May. 12, 2003

Campuses stay open to SARS-wary foreigners

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Students from countries plagued with SARS outbreaks will be allowed to enroll in area universities and colleges this summer. But some students who are already here are canceling plans to go home.

The schools' positions could change if the epidemic worsens or if the number of countries with travel advisories increases. The U.S. State Department currently advises against unnecessary travel to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong; SARS outbreaks have also occurred in Vietnam.

"No Texas university has put any kind of restriction. If the numbers begin to indicate we should, we'll make that decision," said Richard Nicholas, vice president for student life at Texas Woman's University.

Last week, the University of California at Berkeley barred new students from countries hit hard by SARS, saying the university is ill-equipped to handle an outbreak.

But after facing intense criticism that it overreacted, Berkeley announced over the weekend that it will allow about 80 students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to attend summer classes -- far fewer than the nearly 600 Asian students who had already enrolled in summer and English language classes.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a highly contagious illness whose symptoms mimic the flu, has killed more than 450 people worldwide. There is no known cure.

Officials at area universities and colleges said the number of students on their campuses who are from the affected countries is small. At the University of Texas at Arlington, 216 students come from China, and 124 are from Taiwan. Texas Christian University has 30 Chinese students and five from Taiwan. At the University of North Texas, 172 students are from China and 148 are from Taiwan. Texas Woman's University, the smallest of the four universities, has 32 students from affected areas out of an enrollment of about 6,300 students.

University authorities have provided international students with information about the disease and are monitoring travel plans. Officials said that if a student shows signs of the illness, they will follow guidelines established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The guidelines include isolating patients for a 10-day incubation period.

Guili Sun, 27, a UNT computer science graduate student, believes people are overreacting. Sun, who is from the Shanxi Province near Beijing, has a friend who planned to return to China over the weekend.

"I didn't have any plans to go home. Even if I did, I think I would have stuck to the plan. Everything is under control in the society. It's going back to normal, so I wouldn't think it's a factor," she said.

But some of Sun's fellow students are taking no chances. Several foreign students are staying in Denton this summer because of concerns about SARS and because new visa procedures could make it difficult to re-enter the country, said Su Gao, who advises the UNT Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

Gao, a UNT assistant math professor, canceled a summer trip to China when a conference was called off. And a UNT study-abroad program has been diverted from China to Malaysia, an east Asian country that has not had a SARS outbreak.

Texas Woman's University students Bo-I Chen and Ming-Yu Lin canceled their summer trips home to Taiwan.

"The SARS situation is very severe," Chen said. "My wife and I made the decision at the final minute. We lost money, but to compare with taking the risk, we thought we'd better stay."

Jingyi Wang, 34, a graduate student at TCU, was looking forward to visiting his parents in China this summer after not seeing his homeland for four years. But because of SARS and increasing difficulties in getting student visas, Wang said he canceled his trip, forfeiting his $700 round-trip ticket.

"There's no guarantee I will get infected, but probably I will make somebody else scared if I come back," said Wang, a doctoral candidate in physics. "I'm upset about that, but it's necessary. ... It's better for everybody."

Staff Writer Patrick Mcgee Contributed to This Report, Which Contains Material From Knight Ridder News Service.
ONLINE: For more information about SARS, go to www.who.int/en or www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars
Jessamy Brown, (817) 685-3876 jessamybrown@star-telegram.com


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