Sudaluck Suriyayot, a 15-year-old exchange student in Confluence, Pennsylvania, said her parents had agreed to let her stay for now because travelling will put her at risk of getting infected.
“Sometimes I worry though, because half of the students in the programme have already packed up and are heading home. I will think about returning this week, because this city may go into full lockdown at any time,” she said, adding that local authorities had ordered the closure of public venues as neighbouring towns have had a rising number of COVID-19 infections.
Nat Nonsaengroth, a 17-year-old exchange student in Hutto, Texas, said his host family has allowed him to stay on, so he can avoid coming into contact with possible carriers.
Nat added that protective gear is not freely available in his community, and those who use it are viewed with suspicion.
“If you wear a mask, you will be branded a sick person by classmates, when actually all you are trying to do is protect yourself and others,” he said.
Sagee Wongchaisuwan, a 17-year-old exchange student in Edina, Missouri, said she has also decided to stay for now to avoid possible infection while travelling.
“I had seven transit flights before I arrived here. If I fly back, I could be infected en route. It is safer to stay with my host family and take online courses. If I want essential items, I can order them online from a local supermarket,” she said.
Meanwhile, students on work-and-travel programmes are facing financial difficulties because their workplaces have closed under partial lockdowns.
Chayapa Kandokmai, a 20-year-old student in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, said the coronavirus outbreak has turned the bustling town, which has several amusement parks where many students work, into a ghost town.
“Local authorities shut down public places temporarily, including my souvenir shop. Drive-through restaurants and supermarkets remain open, but limit the number of customers to avoid overcrowding. Food and supplies are in stock only in the morning,” she said.
Like 40 other unemployed students on her programme, Ms Chayapa is wondering how she will weather the coronavirus storm as she wants to work and travel until the programme wraps up in June.
“Without a job, I only have enough to last until mid April. I want to apply for a Social Security Number, but the offices are closed. If I have this card, I can look for another job legally,” she said.
“I am trying to apply for a card online, but I have to send my passport by mail and wait for two weeks. If something happens in the meantime, such as a full lockdown, I won’t be able to return home.”
Likewise, Pichanat Yoousuksumran, a 21-year-old student in New Jersey, said she is in two minds about whether to return home as she had only just arrived.