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China, Coronavirus and Coming Home: One Middlebury Student's Story

A child wears a facemask on a plane departing China during the coronavirus outbreak in January 2020.
Benjy Renton, courtesy
A child wears a facemask on a plane departing China during the coronavirus outbreak in January 2020.

Coronavirus continues to spread in mainland China and beyond. According to the latest updates from the World Health Organization, in China alone, more than than 20,000 people have been infected and more than 400 have died. The virus has spread to 20 other countries, including the U.S., which now has 11 cases. Foreigners traveling, working, or studying in China have been advised by their countries to leave. And that includes some Middlebury College students who were expecting to spend a semester abroad. 

Junior Benjy Renton is an international and global studies major focusing on East Asia. He was studying in Beijing, nearly 700 miles north of Wuhan where the coronavirus originated, when he and his fellow students found their travels cut short. A student journalist at the Middlebury Campus newspaperhe's also been blogging about his latest trip to China and the rapidly developing situation related to the virus.

Vermont Edition host Jane Lindholm spoke with Renton on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, when he had been back in the country for about 48 hours. He shared when he first learned of the coronavirus outbreak, how he saw a China transformed and deserted due to the virus, and he recounts how he and his classmates made it back to the U.S.

Middlebury College eventually instructed students to return to the U.S., canceling the school's spring semester programs in China.

Renton said Middlebury College has advised all students returning from China to follow CDC protocol and wait at least 14 days before returning to campus.

Broadcast on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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