President Thompson Reveals COVID-19 Strategy/by Austin LaBrot

While MC students were enjoying their months-long Spring Break, administration, faculty, and government officials deliberated the university’s reopening for Fall 2020. 

Last semester, as reported early by Collegian staff, the university updated its emergency preparedness procedures. There were guidelines created for each building on campus. What to do and where to go in the events of tornadoes, fires, and shootings were mapped out by administration, headed by President Blake Thompson. 

Thompson said, “We had been planning for emergency preparedness before Christmas Break, with a tabletop exercise planned for Spring Break.” Then COVID-19 struck. 

The Mississippi Department of Health confirmed the first COVID case in March, the same time as the original Spring Break. 

“The Lord guides us even without us knowing it,” Thompson said. The school had the right people on campus at the right time. MC’s Provost, Dr. Keith Elder, was hired in February. Elder has an extensive background in public health, serving as the founding dean for Samford University. Also on campus in March were officials from Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These leaders gave thoughtful insight when COVID first appeared. 

When MC decided to extend the break another week, planning became more focused as task force members were selected. The Fall Opening Task Force was chaired by Dr. Jonathan Randle and Dr. Jonathan Ambrose. This specific group created a plan for hybrid learning and move-in procedures. 

Four other task forces were formed: two made decisions for summer classes and activities, one for financial management, and one dedicated to medical prevention. 

“Chairs of all these task forces met regularly,” said director of public relations Tracey Harrison. “This kept the school’s procedures unified,” Thompson added. 

As administration laid the groundwork for reopening, the State of Mississippi and federal government granted universities money to help schools become adequately prepared to reopen safely. The yellow hand sanitizer boxes, plexiglass dividers, and COVID tests were all purchased from a $2 million grant. “Most of the money was given away in scholarships to students through the MCares program,” said Harrison. 

Move-in time shone across campus mid-August with over 1600 students and parents being tested by physician assistant students, Merit healthcare workers, and School of Nursing seniors. Of the 1662 tests, there were only seven positives. Four students went back home, while three were quarantined in Ratliff Hall, Thompson said.

“The process [created by the Fall Opening Task Force] worked!” Thompson exclaimed. “The procedure went exactly to plan. Students who tested positive were caught before entering any residence hall.” Many of the seven positives from move-in have recovered and are now back on campus, said Harrison. 

Thompson believes students will be on campus until finals, but many are worried about cases growing exponentially and the campus shutting down again. 

“There is no definitive number [of cases] which will make the school shut down,” Thompson said. “ cases rise in a dorm, we will shut down the dorm. If COVID spreads across the English Department, we will shut Jennings down.” 

The plan is to keep students on campus, no matter what. “MC is family, and you want to keep your family safe,” Thompson said. Wearing masks across campus is a reflection of that love towards students. 

“For your safety and ours, please continue to wear your masks to prevent getting sick and getting others sick,” said sophomore Sophia Suh. 

Beginning Monday, August 30, administration will start testing students at random. 

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