Middle school students and chaperones from Tsuruta, Japan, have been coming every spring to Hood River for decades.

But this year, due to concerns about the outbreak of the coronavirus — a severe acute respiratory syndrome transmitted by human-to-human contact — the trip has been canceled. Students were slated to come to Hood River for a week beginning Saturday, March 14.

Hood River-Tsuruta Sister City Board President LisaAnn Kawachi said that word came Feb. 19 from the Tsuruta Town Office that this year’s trip would have to be canceled. As of press time Thursday, there were 202 confirmed cases in Japan, resulting in four reported deaths. According to the Center for Disease Control, as of Feb. 25 (its last update), there were 53 reported cases of coronavirus in the U.S. resulting in zero deaths.

“Tsuruta’s mayor, vice-mayor and head of the board of education met to discuss the coronavirus issue Feb. 18 and after meeting with the parents of the students, decided that it was in everyone’s best interest to cancel their visit in March,” Kawachi said.

Cases of coronavirus infections are increasing in Japan, Kawachi said, with large-scale events being canceled or closed to the public. International school exchange visits are also being canceled throughout the country as a precaution.

“Aomori prefecture (where the town of Tsuruta is located) officials are advising residents against any non-essential foreign travel at this time,” she said. “Given that the group would not be able to avoid large crowds in their travels through Tokyo, they have decided the risks are just too high, both for the students and for us in Hood River as well.”

While disappointing — host families and activities have all been secured and planned for at this point — Kawachi said the board and everyone involved understand the concerns that led to the decision.

“I asked if there is a chance to reschedule this trip for a later time, but as of right now, they are unsure and most likely will not,” Kawachi said.

The board’s focus has now shifted to planning this summer’s student exchange to Tsuruta.

“We are moving forward with those plans in hopes that the coronavirus will be less of a threat by then,” said Kawachi. This upcoming exchange is open to any Hood River middle school or high school student and occurs every two years.

According to Kawachi, the board and Tsuruta Town Office are proceeding with this summer’s exchange accordingly and will make changes or modifications in the schedule when and if they are necessary.

If you are interested in learning more about the exchanges or the Hood River Sister City organization, contact Kawachi at lisakawachi@yahoo.com.

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