The fall 2020 semester is a wrap and the spring semester is on the horizon, but Murray State University’s administration is already looking ahead as far as fall 2021. MSU President Bob Jackson said based on recommendations from health officials, the university is in preliminary stages of making plans for vaccine distribution mid-semester of spring 2021, and he hopes that means returning to a more normal college campus atmosphere is within reach.
“I hope we're talking about a vaccine in the second half of the spring where we can vaccinate campus, if you will, and get this pandemic behind us,” he said. “Our goal is to start next fall in a new normal environment. But normal from what we think about in regard to a residential campus and in how we expect a university to run.”
Jackson said MSU Health Services is working in conjunction with local health officials including Primary Care Medical Center and the Calloway County Health Department to create preliminary plans for distributing vaccinations on campus. He said he expects to see more of that information becoming public toward the end of 2020, and he hopes that means the university is on track planning for a more ‘normal’ fall semester in 2021.
“I do believe based on the calls I'm on, the meetings I'm in, the news that we receive through social media and the public news reports, is that if we can get this country vaccinated through really the first several months of 2021, then I think we can enter next fall in a more normal, near normal environment. Now, that's me being hopeful. And I want to be hopeful, but I really believe that we can do that,” he explained. “I don't know if that means that masks will be totally eliminated. I would hope so. I don't know what that means for social distancing. But I would hope that that would be relaxed too.”
Jackson noted preliminary plans shared by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detail a tiered approach for distribution. He said while frontline healthcare workers and the elderly are at the top of the list, he anticipates schools and higher education faculty, staff and students will be toward the top of the list as well because education and educational institutions are a priority.
“A vaccination process throughout this country is going to solve a lot of the problems regarding this particular virus COVID-19, and the damage it's done to the economy and the health of this country and what it's done to many individuals,” he added. “It's taken a great toll on everyone.”
Kentucky State Budget Auditor John Hicks recently revealed the commonwealth’s coffers hadn’t suffered as much as initially predicted, meaning the universities no longer had to plan for an 8% budget deficit. Jackson said that’s “good news,” but it’s not over yet.
“That's a huge help to MSU and all the colleges and universities in this state and it allows us to get through this pandemic in better fashion. So what happens on July 1? We'll know more about that in the days to come,” he said. “The legislature goes back into session in January, they'll deal with the next fiscal year. But I think we're going to be able to get through this year without any significant cuts or changes from a state standpoint. And that's good news.”
Regarding the potential for additional federal stimulus funding, Congress remains in a holding pattern of a months-long stalemate about another relief bill, and Jackson said there’s been no word for universities, either. But it’s necessary, he said.
“Colleges, universities in this country, small businesses in this country, all need federal stimulus to help. The American public needs assistance in regard to federal stimulus, and one more round of federal stimulus will get us through this pandemic, I think,” he said.
Jackson said safety measures and protocols have resulted in millions of dollars spent over the last nine months at MSU, and the university needs assistance in that regard.
“We've talked to our federal delegation in regard to that and their staff members, and we stay in contact regularly. And I think we will see it. I hope we see it between now and the end of the calendar year, and I really think we will. It's badly needed. The American economy needs it. The world economy needs it. And so we're going to continue pushing for federal stimulus.”