COVID-19 continues to shake our community, our state and our country. New cases and deaths are rising throughout the state of Missouri and the United States.
While the virus spreads throughout our state and our country, case numbers in Greene County have begun to decline from the most recent wave’s peak. Hospitalizations and deaths remain very high.
Updated CDC mask recommendations
Research indicates that the Delta variant of the virus is more contagious. On the basis of this research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask recommendations.
The CDC now recommends that everyone — unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people — wear a mask in public indoor settings.
The CDC’s updated recommendations also state that fully vaccinated people can:
- Participate in many of the activities they did before the pandemic.
- Generally refrain from quarantining before and after domestic and international travel.
- Generally refrain from routine screening testing.
- Generally refrain from quarantining after a known exposure.
Decisions for the fall
David Hall and I presented this information and supporting data to the Board of Governors last week. We discussed at length the appropriate pathway forward as the university begins the fall semester.
The board and I are committed to having a “normal” fall semester with as many classes, activities and events on campus and as few restrictions as possible.
However, the board and I also agreed that we must take appropriate precautions to protect the most vulnerable members of our campus community as the Delta variant sweeps the nation.
The board gave me guidance and approved a resolution granting me authority to make temporary policies to manage the university’s response to the pandemic throughout the fall.
Temporary indoor mask policy
I — like many of you — don’t like wearing a mask, and I don’t have any interest in instituting a mask policy that will last forever.
However, we will start the fall semester with a temporary policy requiring masks indoors throughout campus. The policy is very similar to the mask policy we instituted last school year.
The policy will go into effect on Sunday, Aug. 22, except for classrooms holding intersession classes. Masks will be required in those classrooms when intersession classes begin Aug. 16.
We will reevaluate the policy every 30 days, meaning the first review date has been set for Sept. 21. If necessary, we will extend the policy.
We will rely on the university’s Contingency Plan Guiding Principles when deciding how long the temporary mask policy should remain in place. Relevant factors include campus and Greene County COVID-19 cases, vaccinations, quarantines/isolations, hospitalizations and academic impacts (e.g., classes temporarily moved to remote delivery, etc.).
We are not alone in instituting this temporary masking policy. Most other universities and community colleges throughout the state have instituted (or will soon institute) similar policies.
We have coordinated with OTC as many of our students take classes at both institutions. OTC plans to announce a similar masking policy today.
We will remain engaged with healthcare and public health leaders, state and local government officials, and our higher education peers as we navigate Missouri State’s response to the pandemic.
In addition to implementing a temporary indoor masking policy, we have secured 20,000 KN95/N95 masks for use by faculty and staff throughout the fall semester.
KN95/N95 masks are rated to filter out 95% of particles entering the mask and, unlike cloth masks, are primarily designed to protect the person wearing the mask.
If you would like access to these KN95/N95 masks, please contact your department head or supervisor.
Keeping campus open
I cannot overstate how important it is that we be fully open for business when the fall semester begins Aug. 23.
Our students have made it clear that they want to be on campus in the fall. To achieve our educational mission, we must provide a robust, on-campus learning environment replete with face-to-face classes, meetings, activities and events. Without this experience, students — particularly under-resourced ones — will not enroll or will not successfully complete the fall semester.
With this in mind, we will begin the fall semester without the great majority of the temporary policies we put in place last year.
- We do not plan to move classes currently scheduled for seated delivery to online or a hybrid model.
- We do not plan to cancel campus meetings, activities and events.
- We do not plan to pivot back to widespread work-from-home arrangements for faculty and staff. We will continue to implement the Guiding Principles for Employee Return to Campus in Fall 2021. The vast majority of our staff should continue to work from campus on a full-time or nearly full-time basis.
We will continue to have symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 testing widely available on campus. We will also test all unvaccinated students moving into the residence halls, perform weekly wastewater testing, and provide isolation and quarantine housing for students living on campus.
We will continue to encourage students to get vaccinated through the Student Vaccination Incentive Program. We have also created an Employee Vaccination Incentive Program to encourage full and part-time faculty and staff to get vaccinated and report their vaccination information to the university.
The COVID-19 Information Center will continue to provide the latest COVID-19 information at the university. Our COVID-19 Dashboard will resume at the outset of the fall semester, and our COVID-19 Response Team will continue to perform contact tracing and serve as a resource to answer COVID related questions for members of the campus community.
Set aside time for town hall
In lieu of our traditional State of the University Address, we will host a series of virtual town hall meetings throughout the year to update you on the status of COVID-19 and inform you of our plans, strategies and responses.
The first such Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Aug. 18. I will summarize university accomplishments during 2020-21, update you on COVID-19 data, and discuss our plans and policies as we begin the fall semester.
As in prior town hall meetings, you will have the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions.
We will schedule other town hall meetings as needed and inform you about them through Inside Missouri State.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!
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