COVID coverage: Taking a look through an unprecedented semester

Caleb Bailey walks on campus in August with a mask to follow COVID-19 guidelines. MSU and the community have dealt with unforeseen circumstances this semester in the midst of the pandemic.

This semester was unparalleled to anything the Mississippi State University community has experienced before. Faculty, staff and students faced a variety of unique challenges due to COVID-19.

Provost and Executive Vice President David Shaw said MSU had to figure out how to deal with problems in the midst of a pandemic, but everyone worked hard to quickly find solutions and make the semester as successful as possible.

"I am really proud of our faculty and students for stepping up and recognizing this is going to be a crazy semester, and we have to make the best out of a crazy situation," Shaw said.

Several on-campus housing facilities were greatly impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks.

In August, The Reflector published an article about six MSU Greek organizations that had to quarantine including Phi Mu, Kappa Delta, Chi Omega, Tri Delta, Fiji and Pi Kappa Alpha. 

"According to MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter, the Mississippi State Department of Health defines an outbreak as three cases or more," The Reflector said. "At that point, members of the organization are required to isolate for 14 days, either at their permanent residence or in an MSU quarantine facility."

The Reflector said the university spent $1.2 million of the MSU CARES Act funding to provide students with quarantine facilities in Starkville such as the Hampton Inn and the Comfort Suites.

By following all of the COVID-19 regulations and quarantining when necessary, the Greek community worked hard to stop the spread of the virus.

Teri Anna Jackson, a junior studying social work, lives in a Greek house and said she is impressed by how hard the house director and the women living in the house worked to follow the regulations and keep everyone safe.

"All of the girls who live with me really go above and beyond to follow the rules," Jackson said.

Additionally, Starkville and the surrounding areas faced obstacles caused by the pandemic.

In September, The Reflector published an article about the curfew placed on Oktibbeha County. A curfew was enforced from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. with a maximum fine of $500. 

According to The Reflector, officials implemented this curfew due to large gatherings late at night which included close to 100 people, creating stress on the public safety department.

However, this curfew only affected the participating cities in the county which did not include Starkville.

As the semester progressed, The Reflector announced in October MSU made changes to the COVID regulations that allowed the university to safely test the success of student events. 

MSU allowed Greek events such as parties and swaps to occur under the condition of a pilot program. Students were allowed to attend events that followed COVID-19 regulations, but they had to agree to random asymptomatic testing.

According to The Reflector, the pilot program occurred over two weekends, and those who attended the events were successful in following the rules.

Students who were at a higher risk of exposure such as those living in residence halls and participating in student life groups were selected for random testing.

In addition to the new COVID-19 regulations, The Reflector reported the university canceled spring break for the spring semester.

"(MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Regina) Hyatt explained the decision to cancel spring break as a measure to limit traveling and exposure to COVID-19, similar to the decision to end the fall semester before Thanksgiving break," The Reflector said.

According to VP Shaw, MSU's cases dramatically decreased towards the end of the semester. Shaw said he is continuously amazed at the way MSU's employees and students work to stop the spread.

"We have been down below 20 people in the quarantine facility for several weeks now," Shaw said. "We have created a little island with Starkville and MSU where the mask wearing and the compliance has been really good compared to a lot of other places in the state or the United States for that matter."

According to Shaw, there have not been more than 10 positive cases at MSU during a single day in several weeks.

Shaw said the university will continue to analyze where they can improve for next semester. He said MSU will implement more face-to-face classes which will still require social distancing and masks.

"This pandemic is a really difficult situation because we are dealing with many unknowns," Shaw said. "The way everybody has stepped up and adjusted and made the best of a bad situation makes me really proud of our university and everyone associated with the university."

According to the COVID-19 information page on MSU's website, the university has 23 active cases and 14 students are in MSU's quarantine facilities as of Nov. 8.

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