Murray State University leaders emphasized Monday during a virtual town hall the need for faculty, staff, and students to follow COVID-19 guidelines and requirements outlined in a reopening plan so that the university can operate under a “new normal.”
Murray State President Bob Jackson, along with the university’s Chief Medical Officer Bob Hughes and other leadership, said requirements such as wearing masks and social distancing on campus and in classrooms is crucial.
“This is challenging for everyone. None of us asked to be where we are right now. And we got to make, do the best we possibly can in this unruly environment we find ourselves in, and it’s taking everybody working together in making this happen,” said Jackson.
Jackson said the university changed its student code of conduct over the summer to enforce the use of face coverings on campus. The university’s policies for students includes punishable conduct with warnings to expulsion for those who fail “to comply with University rules and precautions designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which may include, but are not limited to, requirements to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.”
The reopening plan requires students, staff, and faculty to conduct a daily health checkup through a smartphone app, and faculty, staff, and students are required to take their temperatures through university-provided thermometers before coming to work. Jackson also praised faculty and college deans for creating courses that offer both in-person and online instruction.
Public restrooms in academic buildings and dorms will be cleaned twice a day, with classrooms cleaned at night. Doorknobs, handrails, and elevator buttons are being wiped down, though individual offices are expected to be cleaned by respective faculty and staff. University leadership also said stairwells and elevators would be consistently cleaned.
The plan also encourages faculty, staff, and students to receive a flu vaccine as soon as available, with the university making vaccines accessible on campus starting in fall 2020. Chief Medical Officer Bob Hughes said encouraging flu vaccines is a part of an effort to help distinguish COVID-19 during flu season.
“It’s always going to be confusing to tell what’s what, but if you got similar symptoms in both illnesses and you don’t have someone vaccinated, then the index of suspicion for them having the flu versus corona goes up much higher,” said Hughes. “It’ll make diagnosis easier, it’ll improve the health and safety of the individuals to get those as quick as they can.”
Hughes also said the reason why Murray State isn’t testing those coming back to campus, like the University of Kentucky is doing, is because of the potential unreliability of tests depending on when they’re taken. For example, he said those who are exposed to the coronavirus won’t test positive for 3-5 days after the exposure, leaving a timeframe where people could initially test negative and later test positive.
The university’s reopening is happening as Calloway County is seeing a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases connected to community spread, with county health leaders expecting a further increase in cases partially due to the return of Murray State students. Murray State’s semester begins August 17.