As the spring semester begins and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, Mississippi State University is looking forward as they continue to meet the challenges.
Planning for the upcoming academic semester began before students headed home for winter break, with MSU encouraging everyone to get tested for COVID-19 before traveling.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Regina Hyatt, over 2,000 students were tested before leaving campus for the holidays.
On Jan. 1, Hyatt sent out an email to the student body recommending self-quarantining starting that day in order to reduce the spread upon their return. Hyatt believes communication is key in reducing the spread of COVID-19 on campus and making students aware of the resources available to them, like free testing.
“I think it’s all about the communication and continuing to communicate with students about the availability of testing, what the isolation and quarantine procedures are and all of the health behaviors that hopefully will help keep COVID-19 from spreading,” Hyatt said.
Over the break, MSU administration faced the difficult decision of moving back the start of classes from Jan. 6 to Jan. 11, hoping to avoid COVID-positive students arriving to campus shortly after any New Year’s parties.
Hyatt believes this was the most appropriate choice for the safety of MSU students and faculty. Dean of Students Thomas Bourgeois said he is happy to have students back on campus, albeit later than originally planned.
“We are excited students are back,” Bourgeois said, “and we look forward to a safe spring semester.”
With the spring semester now underway, Hyatt said the fall safety protocols still apply, including wearing masks, physical distancing and making good decisions.
“We recognize that the structures we have in place, particularly for classes and formal activities, are working,” Hyatt said. “We feel a lot more confident in those strategies, and I don’t feel as anxious coming into the spring.”
MSU is using lessons learned last semester to encourage students to still have fun, including hosting in-person events and student organization activities safely. Some creative solutions used in the fall have also continued into this semester, such as the new class locations in the Gridiron and the Scoreboard Club at the stadium.
Hyatt encourages personal responsibility during these times and wants students to be aware of common spreading events, like carpooling and eating in groups. Students should avoid riding in a vehicle with anyone outside their households. Masks should be worn in the car with windows kept down when carpooling. Eating with large groups poses a high risk to students as well, especially indoors, because of the close seating and removal of masks.
“Those are two environments that I think people don’t think about as much,” Hyatt said. “We need to have them happen less often, or in safer ways.”
One important development from the fall semester is the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
While MSU does not currently have any vaccines, it has applied to be a distribution site for faculty, students and staff.
The Mississippi Department of Health is currently operating many vaccine sites across the state, including one at the MSU Horse Park which is serving as both a vaccine administration and testing site.
Despite the lack of vaccines, Dr. Clifton Story, the executive director of the Longest Student Health Center, maintains the clinic has the measures of distributing them.
“We currently have no vaccines and are awaiting word on if and when we will get it, along with any instructions from the health department,” Dr. Story said. “We have a few options for distributing the vaccine, but that will depend on if and when we get the vaccine.”
Students are not expected to be eligible for the vaccine until March, but if MSU is not distributing vaccines at that time, they will be able to go to the Horse Park.
As COVID-19 continues to evolve, Hyatt said she is proud of how MSU students have handled the challenges and continues to be optimistic.
“There is an end in sight,” Hyatt said. “I personally really appreciate how our students have stepped up and responded. I think it could have been a lot more challenging, and we have been very fortunate.”