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SARS Quarantine Imposed, Festival Canceled

May 09, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — A private language school decided Thursday to quarantine a group of Chinese students arriving later this month from a SARS-infected province of China, and officials canceled the annual Santa Barbara Chinese Festival out of concern for community sentiments.

The decision by the EF International School of English in Santa Barbara was made after public complaints from residents. The organizers of the Chinese Festival said city officials had taken a very neutral position on their annual event, but they decided to cancel it anyway because of the SARS scare.

The local private school, which teaches English to groups of 100 to 300 foreign students at different times of the year, said the 16 Chinese students arriving in late May will be placed in quarantine for 10 days, then monitored daily for any signs of rising temperatures or other SARS symptoms.

The decision was announced after strong public reaction to a local news report saying the school had abandoned plans for a quarantine. A school spokeswoman said the report was a misunderstanding.

"We did not have a quarantine program planned until this morning, when we started getting calls," said Lori Van Dam, a spokeswoman for the EF International Language Schools in Boston. The Santa Barbara facility is one of 11 EF schools in North America, she said.

"We should stress that neither the World Health Organization nor U.S. agencies have barred students from coming to this country to study," Van Dam said. "But there was community concern, so we decided to calm the worries and implement the quarantine."

The controversy in Santa Barbara follows one at UC Berkeley earlier this week, where officials banned students living in SARS-infected Asian countries from summer classes.

Despite the school's comments Thursday about a quarantine, Dr. Eliot Schulman, medical director of the county public health department, expressed reservations about the quarantine plan and the timing of the 12-week visit.

"I'm not sure they know what to do," he said. "I want to see it before I make any judgment. My question is, why take any risk? Wouldn't it be most prudent to wait for a better time? But they said they will run it by me, and we will see."

The cancellation of the Chinese Festival, planned for June 28, was unfortunate, Schulman added. But since many people from Hong Kong and China attend it, he said, he understood why officials of the Santa Barbara Chinese American Assn. made their decision.

Nicholas Teng, a leading festival official, said, "We did it with great regret. It is a very colorful event that draws up to 10,000 people. The city said we could do it, but we decided it would be injudicious, in view of the current crisis."

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum called both cases unfortunate. "That festival is one of my favorites," she said. "And I hate the idea of having to restrict people. But we have to go with the health experts on that."

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