September 1, 2020
Dear students, faculty, staff and parents,
Entering our second week of classes, I’m writing to share observations and updates as we continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19.
On Friday, Aug. 28, a group of university leaders and I met on campus with Dr. Thomas Dobbs and Dr. Paul Byers from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss MSDH guidance to the state’s universities regarding isolation and quarantine processes, and to share what we have learned in navigating a number of complex and ever-changing scenarios. Dr. Dobbs added that he recognized the challenges facing universities, but was encouraged by the detailed plans and on-campus safety protocols employed by our university.
I’d like to share a big Thank You to all in our university community who expressed support to our colleagues who are working earnestly, diligently and tirelessly to make this environment work. Managing through a pandemic is difficult, and it affects everyone on every level, personally and professionally. Thank you for sharing constructive feedback, which we are using to improve our processes, approaches and overall response.
Below are updates and clarifications to keep you apprised of where we stand. Additional details are provided in the links incorporated below.
Monitoring the impact of the virus on campus
Last week, the Future Planning Task Force launched a dashboard to share data and metrics that we are tracking to assess the impact of COVID-19 on our campus. It is important to note that there is no single data point that will determine whether we need to implement additional measures. Rather, decision-making will require us to consider a number of factors affecting our ability to address the needs of current cases, mitigate risk for our campus constituents and manage the resources we need to respond.
For example, the number of active cases is considered in conjunction with other metrics such as capacity of hospital beds for our local hospital (Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi), or in tandem with availability of designated isolation or quarantine space on campus. Such considerations will more fully reflect the impact of the virus on our community and our ability to respond.
Thanks to our robust contact tracing efforts through our team of expert volunteers from the School of Applied Sciences, we have discerned that spread of the virus on our campus is not prevalent in classrooms and academic spaces. The experiences that have been shared with us about the classrooms and learning experiences have been positive. People are following the protocols in our academic and research spaces, and those protocols are working there.
We have linked a number of cases and outbreaks to a failure to follow the protocols in other settings, primarily off-campus social gatherings. We once again ask all members of our community to embrace the shared responsibility of adhering to the protocols – on and off campus. It is imperative that all of us take precautions to protect our entire community, especially vulnerable individuals among our students, faculty, staff and neighbors in Oxford.
Isolation and quarantine processes for on-campus residents
There has been some confusion related to isolation and quarantine, so I want to clarify our approach in this area.
The university is required to manage these processes in accordance with MSDH guidance, which continues to evolve as MSDH’s understanding deepens on how the virus may spread in various areas and populations. On Aug. 21, we learned that an outbreak in a university setting was defined by MSDH as three or more positive cases among a defined group, such as residents of a floor in a residence hall or members of a team.
Subsequently, MSDH updated its written guidance on Aug. 27 regarding isolation and quarantine on college and university campuses. In the on-campus meeting last Friday (Aug. 28), MSDH verbally communicated its plan to clarify further its guidance to colleges and universities on how to quarantine individuals affected by outbreaks. As a result of these discussions, we updated the information about these processes for Student Housing residents on our university’s COVID-19 website. Please visit this information page for additional details and FAQs.
This is just one example of how our processes continue to evolve as new information becomes available, and it requires time to understand such changes before we can communicate them to you. We remain committed to keeping our campus community informed as we navigate this period together.
As a university, we are working diligently to provide the best living and learning environment possible within the limits posed by these challenging times. While we may have to do things differently in the short term, we must remain focused on our long-term goal of reducing the impact of the virus in our community while keeping our students on track toward earning their degrees. We are grateful for everyone who is doing their part to help us get there.
Stay healthy, stay well.
Glenn F. Boyce