Universities and colleges across the U.S. have announced a switch to online-only courses or campus closures, and Murray State University is following suit. All courses at Murray State, starting the end of the university's spring break through early April, will be instructed only through online or alternative means. Murray State President Bob Jackson said Wednesday morning the university is not planning to close.
“This is an unprecedented issue. It’s an international issue. We have been thoughtfully, carefully planning for weeks," he said.
In an email Wednesday evening, Jackson said faculty, staff and teaching assistants will begin training to teach online courses on Friday. Online or alternative instruction for courses will start March 23 and continue through April 5, with university leadership meeting daily to re-evauluate future plans.
Spring break remains as originally scheduled. Murray State's main and regional campuses will remain open with normal operations, and the contingency of campus events will be evaulated on a case-by-case basis.
Jackson said the university is taking a proactive approach by implementing a number of precautions and reviewing the need for additional action multiple times each day. Among the precautions in place: suspension of all international travel through April 30 for all students, faculty and staff, including study abroad; suspension of all non-essential, university-sponsored travel through April 30; development of a comprehensive website where all information pertaining to the university’s decisions regarding coronavirus is regularly updated.
A more recent tool in protecting the campus and community at large is the voluntary travel registry, which Jackson said gathers information regarding personal travel plans, including locations and dates of travel. He said in addition to asking students, faculty and staff to be conscientious about where they’re headed over spring break, the university is asking that same group to participate in the registry. Having that information, he explained, will assist the university in taking proper precautions if someone is returning to campus after being in an area where a confirmed case has recently occured.
A note toward the bottom of the registry form states the information will be used to help MSU understand its travel footprint and communicate with the campus travel community during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jackson said decisions regarding the university’s plans of action, both current and future, are being made by a "work group" of senior level administrators and healthcare professionals including Dr. Bob Hughes, Chief Medical Officer of Murray State University Health Services. He said many of those members are also overseeing smaller workgroups who are focusing on the finer details and “considering every angle.”
“We’re not following the rule book because there is no rule book in regard to this, so we’re trying to make sure we’re in contact and doing all the things we should be doing,” he said.
Among the large list of organizations with whom the university is working and consulting during the developing decision-making process: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, U.S. State Department, Calloway County Health Department, Murray-Calloway County Hospital, and both Murray Independent School District and Calloway County School District.
Jackson said the work group is also regularly consulting with other universities in Kentucky, exchanging information regarding protocol and ideas for management. He acknowledged several universities have already opted to switch to online-only teaching or campus closures but noted each university’s needs vary based on a number of factors.
“Every institution has very unique circumstances they’re dealing with. Some may have active cases, some may have active cases in their region and some not. Some aren’t able to make nimble adjustments in regard to online courses or whatever the case may be so every institution is different,” he explained. “Our job is very simple: to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff and the broader community. We’ve been doing that well and we’ve been doing it carefully and thoughtfully.”
Hughes noted there has not, as of this morning, been anyone in Calloway County labeled as a “person under investigation,” (PUI). He said that designation is for someone who is quarantined and expected to have the virus, who’s waiting to test. He said neither his staff on the MSU campus nor his staff at Primary Care Medical Center in Murray have seen anyone yet who is a PUI or even qualifies for testing.
But if or when the virus is detected in the immediate area, Hughes said the workgroup and its counterparts will be ready to jump into action.
“The ability to mobilize and move quickly is here. I’ve seen that in the [workgroup] meetings. That’s the beauty of people working together is that you can make those quick adjustments and you have a lot of people around the table who are knowledgeable in their arenas,” he said. “And we’re trying to ask the questions before the question comes up. We’re anticipating what the next questions may be that someone may ask and then coming up with a plan in case that situation arises because there’s no rule book. There’s no right or wrong, you just use the best judgement you have in that moment to make the best decision you can.”
Jackson and Hughes said the minute new implementations are finalized, the workgroup and university staff shares that information on the website and pushes out campus-wide emails.
“In these situations, people need the facts as you have the facts. That’s how you combat anxiety,” Hughes added.
A plethora of information about coronavirus, including basic health and hygiene tips, useful/educational web links and information regarding the university’s management plan is available at murraystate.edu/healthupdate.
This article has been updated. Liam Niemeyer contributed to this report.