In response to concerns about severe acute respiratory syndrome, Provost Charles Phelps issued a memo on May 2 recommending that family members of graduating seniors traveling from countries that have been “defined as ‘Travel Advisory’ areas” by the World Health Organization not attend this weekend’s commencement ceremony.

Instead, Phelps recommended that families not attending commencement watch the Webcasts.

“We are not aware of any significant areas of contagion in this country,” Phelps wrote in his memo. “As of this writing, no faculty, staff, or students have been diagnosed with SARS, nor has there been a diagnosis within Monroe County. Nevertheless, we strongly request that families or individuals not travel to campus for Commencement exercises if they are coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Singapore.”

Phelps’ request is a reaction to the WHO’s advice, according to Director of Public Relations Robert Kraus.

“[Phelps’] recommendations were precisely tied to those of the WHO,” Kraus said. UR has 1,300 international undergraduate students, Kraus said – 250 of those are graduating this weekend. Of this 250, 55 are from areas of SARS concern, according to Kraus.

Kraus said there are three degrees of SARS alert as specified by the WHO and they are travel advisory, travel alert, and travel affected areas. The three degrees are highest in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. “We turn to the WHO as making the best evaluation as to where the concerns are,” Kraus added.

Despite Phelp’s recommendation, some families from areas under the travel advisory may still attend the ceremonies. “Parents or friends who do travel from one of the – ‘affected areas’ are asked to contact the University Health Service immediately upon their arrival for screening and advice about suitable precautions,” Phelps wrote.

Washington and Case Western Reserve Universities have taken similar actions to prevent the spread of the disease for commencement.

The University of California at Berkeley asked that students who live in SARS concern areas not enroll in their summer programs.

Cornell University has formed two committees of university administration, faculty and staff to deal with the issue. The university’s Web site contains a similar SARS advisory.

“It’s the result of extensive discussion between health cars professionals on campus and the senior administration,” Cornell’s Vice President of University Relations Hank Dullea said of the advisory.

“The university urges that individuals seriously consider their plans to travel from areas of the world subject to CDC and WHO travel advisories,” Cornell’s Web site reads. “Individuals should not travel if they are ill, have recently been ill, or have been exposed to someone suspected of having SARS.”

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Chief Communications Officer Bob Finnerty said that RIT has also taken action. “At this point RIT is not banning travel,” he said. “We’ve simply issued travel advisories in terms of letting people know that nonessential [travel] should be postponed to places that are affected, but in terms of graduation, we’re adhering to what local Monroe County Health tells us.”

Continuing, Finnerty said, “People may come to campus from across the globe. We’re also alerting parents and graduates with the latest info.”

Over 7,500 people in 30 countries have contracted SARS and nearly 600 have died. There is currently no cure, although some researchers making progress according to the New York Times.

Yunis can be reached at tyunis@campustimes.org.



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