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Virginia school system cancels foreign exchange program due to coronavirus concerns

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Posted at 12:43 PM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-23 12:47:08-05

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. -- Fairfax County Schools say they have canceled their foreign exchange program ‘out of an abundance of caution’ because of fears over a new coronavirus outbreak in China.

Twenty-one Chinese students and five chaperones recently arrived from China and were scheduled to arrive at Longfellow Middle School Wednesday and meet with their host families.

The students are visiting from Yichang, about 175 miles west of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

At least 17 people have died, hundreds have fallen ill from the virus and two major cities in China are under lockdown while health officials race to contain the coronavirus. The virus has already spread overseas, infecting nearly 600 people including two reported cases in the U.S.

In a message emailed to parents, Longfellow Principal Carole Kihm said the exchange student would no longer visit the school.

The decision came after parents raised concerns about the deadly coronavirus, despite the students being screened on arrival in the U.S. and not showing signs of illness.

“While health officials believe the risk of illness transmission of the novel Coronavirus from these students is extremely low, we felt it necessary to make this adjustment,” Kihm wrote.

School officials said they are working with a travel company to “facilitate cultural and educational activities in the DC area” so that the exchange students can enjoy a positive experience.

The World Health Organization said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare a global emergency over the outbreak, which would step up an international response.