Coronavirus leads to cancellation of sister cities exchange in Newport News

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Posted at 8:37 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 20:37:24-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The coronavirus has put a halt on a sister cities exchange in Newport News.

Due to concerns over novel coronavirus (COVID-19) Sister Cities Newport News (SCNN) and the Neyagawa International Exchange and Friendship Association (NIEFA) have agreed to postpone a 19-member, mixed-age delegation from the Japanese sister city that was scheduled for March 21-29.

Kate Helwig, SCNN's Executive Director, noted that “after the move last Thursday (February 28) by Japanese Prime Minister Abe to close schools in Japan for the entire Month of March, the decision became more obvious.” Helwig said that Japansese schools had planned a two-week break in March and that closing schools for the rest of the month was "a strategy to prevent an outbreak of the virus."

Helwig also added that while she is not aware of any confirmed cases in the sister city of Neyagawa (Osaka Prefecture), there is a confirmed case in the city of Osaka.

Despite the cancellation of the exchange, local host families will gather for a scheduled meeting on Saturday, March 7 from 4-5:30 p.m. in the City of Newport News' office building at Fountain Plaza Two in City Center, Oyster Point. The meeting will be held in the James Conference Room of FP2, which is located at 700 Town Center Drive.

“We had planned to go over details of the exchange itinerary, but now we are getting together to determine ways we can conduct a virtual exchange,” noted Neyagawa Committee Chair Christine Peterson. Ideas include sending a care package and recording a video. Host families are also being encouraged to communicate directly with their Japanese delegates, all to show support from Newport News. “This a ‘reciprocal’ exchange program, and today we are proceeding under the understanding that Newport News’ delegation will travel out to Neyagawa in November,” said Peterson. “If concerns over COVID-19 continue, we will not.”

Sister Cities acts as the international arm of the City of Newport News. Katie Stodghill, the organization's president, explained that the mission of the program is to offer cultural, educational and business exchanges that benefit the community.

Related: Italy to close all schools, universities for several days as COVID-19 death toll rises

“We are a bridge for our citizens to the world. Today, that bridge has become more important than ever. We are here to show that Japan and the U.S. are not isolated from one another by this virus, our sister city partnership connects us," Stodghill said. "People think this virus is not having an effect locally. It is. All international travel is affected. We need to make sure citizens have good information, take reasonable precautions, and don’t fall prey to fear mongering. If citizens have questions about what is happening in Japan, I encourage them to find out by working with us on our virtual exchange."