Vermont students in China monitored for coronavirus

Published: Jan. 28, 2020 at 4:29 PM EST
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The CDC has issued its highest travel alert, telling Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to China. But some Vermont students are already there. Our Darren Perron spoke with one of them.

"What we're worried about, mostly, is just the spread of the virus," Benjamin Renton said.

Renton is one of nine Middlebury College students studying abroad in China. He's in Beijing now in student housing. He spoke with WCAX News via Skype.

But there are no classes at his school, Capital Normal University. His courses are on hold.

In fact, all schools there are closed, pre-K to college as the country struggles to contain the coronavirus.

"No one really knows how long until schools resume again," Renton said. "It seems like everyone is sheltering in place at their house right now."

Renton and a few other students are being monitored for the illness. His temperature is checked three times a day by dorm staff. That's because the students traveled to the northern part of the country. They just cut their trip short as the virus began to spread and China began limiting or halting transportation.

"We worried the trains would shut down. We were worried major transport links could shut down... Inner-city buses in the Beijing area have been shut down and those are the ones that would go out to farther provinces or cities," Renton explained. "The government has tried to limit all interactions with people."

He wears a mask at all times if he leaves the dorm.

"There's this odd eerie feeling," he said.

And if students do leave, guards are now demanding identification, travel plans and phone numbers.

"I think they are just trying to track every movement of someone just in case they're infected," Renton said.

Some students, though, are holed up in their rooms and not going anywhere, worried about the virus.

"We are practicing utmost health precautions to ensure our safety," Renton said.

Renton says students are washing their hands frequently, being careful about what they touch and what they share.

He says Middlebury College continues to check-in.

WCAX News learned Tuesday evening from school officials that Middlebury just canceled its spring semester study abroad program in China, which was supposed to start next month with about 40 students attending.

And the school is now recommending that students there now for the January term leave China and come home.