In the face of the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Mississippi has undertaken extensive and exhaustive planning efforts in order to resume daily operations and return to instruction on campus for the Fall 2020 semester. While aspects of this “Campus Ready” plan will evolve as additional public health recommendations and direction from local, state and federal governing bodies is provided, our response and planning has been and will continue to be driven by the following guiding principles:
- Prevent the spread of the virus to safeguard our community by following guidance of public health officials and agencies,
- Resume an on-campus learning, residential and working environment that prioritizes the safety and well-being of the campus population,
- Fulfill our core mission of education, research, and service, and
- Enable our students to maintain progress toward earning their degrees.
Starting in March, our university’s response to the global pandemic was guided by the Incident Response Team representing many areas of campus operations. When it became clear that the response to COVID-19 would require more extensive and long-term planning, the Future Planning Task Force was established to form working groups focused on six areas: academic planning and experiences, athletics, financial planning/implications, parameters and protocols, public education and awareness, and student services and support.
The parameters and protocols for Fall 2020 operations are aligned and consistent with government orders and public health recommendations from the Safe Return order of Gov. Tate Reeves’s reopening plan, the City of Oxford’s Serving Oxford Safely recovery plan, the IHL Safe Start Task Force, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), and the American College Health Association (ACHA).
The “Campus Ready” plan will continue to evolve as the pandemic unfolds and additional information and public health recommendations are available. While we remain focused on preserving the on-campus experience, COVID-19 has forced us to rethink everything we do — not only in higher education, but in every aspect of our daily lives. It has eliminated many fundamental assumptions that support our activities, educational processes, and interactions. It requires us to think about each campus activity anew and reassess why we do it, what we are trying to accomplish, how it supports our mission, and how we can structure those activities without contributing to the virus spread.
As demonstrated by the recent cases in Mississippi and dozens of other states, one point cannot be overemphasized: Compliance with the parameters and protocols by all members of our university community will be essential to our success in the upcoming academic year. Properly wearing facemasks or appropriate cloth face coverings, maintaining six feet of physical distancing, and practicing proper hand hygiene will be required and essential to prevent virus spread. Many protocols are outlined on the university’s COVID-19 website, and additional protocols will be posted on the site as they are finalized.
If our community does not comply with the protocols and the university experiences prolific spread of the virus, we will have no choice but to scale back on-campus operations and take more drastic measures to prevent further spread. If we all do our part to prevent the virus from spreading using the protocols, our level of activity on campus in the fall can be greater.