As Mississippi State University persists in the battle against COVID-19, preparations for the annual outbreak of the influenza virus are emerging on campus. From spontaneous outdoor setups to appointments in the Longest Student Health Center, MSU is offering flu vaccinations to all students and faculty. By creatively manufacturing ways to prepare students for flu season while still safely following COVID-19 guidelines, MSU is aiming to significantly cut down on the number of flu cases in the community this season.
Nancy Ball, the nurse manager at the Longest Student Health Center, is one of the faculty members giving shots to students across campus.
"We have set up flu clinics around campus and in our clinic to try to get everybody vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated," Ball said. "We are trying to encourage people to be vaccinated this year especially because of the COVID virus."
Ball emphasized the importance of getting a vaccine this year because testing for the flu will be much more complicated than before this season.
"One of the things we're concerned about with flu is, if anyone gets the flu, we have to discern if it's the flu or if it's COVID because the symptoms are so similar," Ball said. "It means you'd have to do a flu test, and you'd have to do a COVID test."
Ball encouraged students to diligently continue following COVID-19 guidelines. Washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing are just as important now as flu season approaches, if not more so, than at the beginning of the semester.
Tanner Jones, a freshman biomedical engineering major from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has been getting his flu shot every year and encourages other students to do the same.
"I get it because I don't want to get the flu, and I don't want to spread it at all. That's the big reason," Jones said. "Even though I haven't had it, I've heard it's terrible, so I'm not taking any risks."
Although he said he had planned on finding a location off campus, Jones said he discovered the free temporary flu clinics on campus from a message in a group chat, and he got his flu shot at one of the clinics on the MSU Drill Field. He remarked on the simplicity of the process.
"It was really easy," Jones said. "We just had to fill out a form, give our basic information and then we sat down, were wiped down with an alcohol wipe, and it was done really quickly."
Dr. Clifton Story is the executive director of health services for MSU, and he has been overseeing many of MSU's COVID-19 and flu virus preparations.
"I have been really encouraged with how the students are doing, overall," Story said. "Obviously not everyone wears masks, but I really feel like the whole university at large — faculty, staff and students — really do what we ask them to."
Story emphasized the importance of MSU working together and taking preventative measures to stay safe during the crossover season of the flu and COVID-19. Story supported Ball's concern about the approach of the flu bringing even more challenges to student health and to the department overseeing it, regarding testing, quarantining and the spread of each virus.
Story believes that, although COVID-19 is a major focus of the MSU community, turning some attention to measures meant to inhibit the spread of the flu is in the best interest of the community.
"People may forget about the flu, but once people start getting the flu and having symptoms of the flu, I think people are going to shift their mindset," Story said.
The safety of student health is a major concern for the university. Story said the university has ordered five times as many flu vaccinations as ordered the previous year, and the health department highly encourages students to get their shots.
"We've tried to ramp up the numbers of shots that we have available and locations where people can get those flu shots," Story said. "There's a cloudy picture between flu and COVID, who has what. So the more people we can get vaccinated for the flu, hopefully the fewer people who will get the flu, and there will be less confusion of the flu and COVID."
Story reminded students to be aware of their surroundings and to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu. These symptoms, he said, can include headache, body ache, cough, fever, sneeze, runny nose and nasal congestion.
"Look out for exposure to people. Look out for your own symptoms, potentially the flu, and be aware of what's really going on," Story said.
For students who have yet to get flu vaccinations, the Division of Student Affairs and University Health Services are continuing to offer locations for flu vaccines. Students may set up an appointment at the Longest Student Health Center on Oct. 21, 22, 26 or 28, and free temporary clinics will be set up on Oct. 20 and 22 at the MSU Amphitheatre, Oct. 21 in Herbert Hall, Oct. 26 in Moseley Hall and Oct. 27 in Zacharias Village.