Elon University’s Spring 2020 program in Beijing has been suspended due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

The respiratory illness, which originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has spread to 28 countries across four continents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Feb. 10, 2020. 

Currently, Elon offers six study abroad programs in China: two in Beijing and four in Shanghai. In addition to semester-long experiences, Elon offers one Winter Term program, called The Flying Dragon. Despite the outbreak during Winter Term, the trip to China was completed, and all students have returned.


Countries have recorded cases of the deadly coronavirus as of publication.

According to Shanna Van Beek, communications manager of global education, Elon students participating in China programs this year were more than 500 miles away from Wuhan.

Van Beek said The Beijing Center, Elon’s partner in Beijing, chose to suspend the program.

“We do have two students that are currently in Beijing, and we are working with each of those students,” Van Beek said. According to Van Beek, these students will be returning to Elon to rework their schedules with the Global Education Center on a case-by-case basis. 

Similar precautions have been taken in the past. Van Beek said Elon worked with students who studied abroad during the Zika virus outbreaks in South America and Ebola virus outbreaks in Africa.  

Elon has also suspended its Martha and Spencer Love School of Business Center in Shanghai for Fall 2020. According to Van Beek, this decision was made not due to concerns about coronavirus but for fear the outbreak would result in lower enrollment. 

Van Beek said this preemptive action will give students currently enrolled in the Shanghai program time to make alternate plans. 

Winter Term students return from China

Elon senior Christopher Pottorff recently returned from the Winter Term trip to China. Though the group did not visit Hubei Province, the coronavirus threat began to have minor effects on their experience upon arrival in Shanghai. 

“Our professors made all the planned activities optional to attend and were a little more cautious about where we went,” Pottorff said. “The day before we left, they said that the Shanghai airport would be the riskiest day of the trip and passed out sanitary masks for us to wear.” 

Pottorff said the professors and Health Services sent them emails after returning from the trip, sharing precautions and guidance about what to do if they begin to feel ill. He also said the group received updates from the U.S. State Department. 

Pottorff said he was not screened after his flight to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

“I recalled hearing about scanners for the virus at JFK and San Francisco, but we were allowed to walk straight off the plane — something I very much disagreed with,” Pottorff said. 

Pottorff also said he believes Americans have no need to panic about the virus.

"It's natural and fine to be afraid of any new virus, but I do think that Americans are looking at the Chinese efforts to stop the virus and panicking over them.."

Chris Pottoriff


“I think it’s natural and fine to be afraid of any new virus, but I do think that Americans are looking at the Chinese efforts to stop the virus and panicking over them,” Pottorff said. 

Local contagions

Though coronavirus is a rising threat in China and has spread to parts of the U.S., university physician Ginette Archinal said the flu is a much larger issue for students.

“There have been no deaths from Wuhan coronavirus in the USA at this time,” Archinal said. “In contrast, there have been 54 deaths from the flu in North Carolina this flu season.” 

According to Archinal, while the fear of coronavirus is prevalent, she recommends students protect themselves against the flu. She also said there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in North Carolina.

Archinal said students returning from the Winter Term trip to China have been put into contact with the Dean of Health and Wellness and GEC staff. 

“The CDC does not recommend isolation—voluntary or mandatory—unless the person has been in Wuhan, Hubei Province, or in very close contact with someone who has,” Archinal said. 

According to Archinal, there are no Elon students or staff who meet that criteria. 

Elon’s current health protocol is to ask patients who arrive at Health Services if they have been overseas within the last four weeks. Archinal also said all ill students are required to wear a mask in waiting and exam rooms, a precaution often taken during flu season. The same measure was taken during the mumps outbreak on campus last fall.

“Everyone—not just students—should practice basic respiratory hygiene to protect themselves and others,” Archinal said.