The University of St. Thomas ordered students from its Catholic studies program in Rome to return home over concern of the spreading coronavirus.

More than 60 students and staff were informed this week that officials decided to cancel the remainder of the spring semester of the St. John Vianney/Catholic Studies program and close the university's Bernardi campus. Nobody has been infected, but the university wanted them to return home because of increasing travel restrictions in Italy.

The students won't be quarantined when they return to Minnesota, said Madonna McDermott, executive director for the university's Center for Well-Being. Seven of the school's other students studying in Italy have been given the option to return home, she said. More than 100 St. Thomas students study abroad, but no others are in countries where the virus has been confirmed, such as South Korea, Japan and China.

"We had lots of folks around the table and spent several weeks making this decision," McDermott said. "We want to make sure they can come home safe."

Medical information was part of that decision, but also how rapidly the situation is changing in Italy and how it is affecting the students' ability to travel around the country as part of their education, she said.

The university will assist all students currently enrolled in the program to return to the United States and has made arrangements for them to complete their classes online. The program in Rome has a fall semester, but officials have not decided whether it will go forward.

Other Minnesota universities are monitoring students studying overseas. Macalester College said it has a few students admitted to programs in South Korea and China. They either have returned home or canceled their trips. Macalester also has many students from China, but they have not returned home during winter break.

The University of Minnesota has suspended all student education and study abroad programs in South Korea for the spring 2020 semester due to increased virus cases and concerns raised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department, said university spokesman Jake Ricker. Programs to China were suspended in January because of similar concerns.

Coronaviruses are somewhat common, and they are responsible for as many as a third of colds in the U.S. The new version has raised concern as a possible pandemic since it was identified in a fish market in Wuhan, China, in December, because nobody has immunity to protect themselves from it.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465