BREAKING: Vanderbilt student tests positive for coronavirus in Chicago

The student said other students in the program had symptoms but were sent home from Italian facilities without getting tested.


Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt campus.

Last updated March 5 at 3:53 p.m. 

A Vanderbilt junior who was studying abroad in Florence has tested positive for coronavirus, the student told The Hustler. The student, who was part of the CET Florence program, is back in the U.S. in a Chicago hospital with mild symptoms. The Hustler granted the student anonymity due to the sensitive medical diagnosis.

The student departed Florence on Tuesday after the program encouraged all students to return to the United States. Then, the student tested positive for coronavirus the next day in Chicago.

The student told The Hustler that other Vanderbilt students in Florence had mild symptoms, but medical facilities sent them back to their residences in Florence to quarantine without getting tested unless they had severe pneumonia-like symptoms. This was to avoid exposing them to other patients in the hospital, the student reported being told.

“Now I’m getting calls from the CDC every 30 minutes asking me every person I’ve been in contact with and I’m saying, you know, I’m not the first person who was sick,” the student said. “It’s kind of like a massive cover-up by the Italian government.”

People in the United States have also reported having trouble accessing tests for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the CDC widened its criteria for administering tests for COVID-19. Previously, the CDC recommended only testing people who had recent exposure to a confirmed patient, had travelled to a country with an outbreak, or required hospitalization. The new standards allow clinicians to use their own discretion on testing symptomatic patients.

Universities including Columbia University and Stanford University have made the decision to suspend study abroad programs on March 4. Vanderbilt told The Hustler in an email they will be releasing updates soon. Vanderbilt canceled study abroad programs in Mainland China, and the Florence program was canceled Feb. 28 by CET.

COVID-19, part of the coronavirus family, originated in Wuhan, China. Currently, there are 96,800 cases worldwide and 3,300 deaths from coronavirus. The United States currently has 160 cases and 11 recorded deaths from the virus.  The first coronavirus case in Tennessee was confirmed in Williamson County morning of March 5; the patient is a 44-year-old man who is currently quarantined in his home. 

Vanderbilt is working with infection control experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and local and state public health officials. The Vanderbilt Incident Response for Travel (VIRT) provides safety-related guidance and assistance for members of the Vanderbilt community on university-related travel.

At 1:22 p.m., Interim Chancellor Susan Wente sent an email to the Vanderbilt community about COVID-19; updates included the reported case in Tennessee and a Vanderbilt student returning from Florence reporting to have tested positive.

Those who believe they may have been exposed to or infected with the novel coronavirus should seek medical care right away. Before you go to a clinic, doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. Vanderbilt students should contact the Student Health Center, while faculty and staff should contact the Occupational Health Clinic for further evaluation.

This article will be updated as new information becomes available.