Missouri universities plan for students to return amid virus

Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 2:10 PM CDT
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Students moving back to campus at the University of Missouri this week are being asked to avoid back-to-school parties and crowded bars and restaurants to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, along with university and city officials, on Tuesday warned that unsafe gatherings could force the school to revert to remote learning. He also asked city residents to cooperate with efforts to reduce exposure to the virus, saying removing the option for in-person learning would also hurt the city's economy, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

"None of us are in this alone," Treece said. "Our individual actions affect the lives of everyone."

Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County health department, said COVID-19 cases in Columbia would inevitably rise as students return but that "we do have some control here."

As of Tuesday, Boone County had reported 1,462 confirmed cases since mid-March, with many cases in recent weeks among people college age or younger. During the seven days through Tuesday, 36.6% of the 181 confirmed new cases have been in people under age 25.

Mun Choi, president of the University of Missouri system and chancellor of the university, said they were reopening during "probably the most challenging period that we've faced in 75 years," since the end of World War II.

"Our actions or lack of actions can have an impact on our community," he said.

About 85% of the 1,575 freshmen are expected to move into dorms at St. Louis University this week before classes — many of them remote — begin Monday. The university will give students rapid COVID-19 tests before move in and those who test positive will stay in isolation rooms.

"Yes we have some protocols," said President Fred Pestello. "We're not going to be able to shake hands and hug each other (but) overwhelmingly we heard from our student body that they want to be in community with each other."

Bethany Riley, 18, of Wildwood, will move into Drury University in Springfield on Sunday, where all rooms are single occupancy this year. She said she's nervous about being exposed to the virus, but feels confident in the university's plans to prevent its spread, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

"I'm here to learn," she said. "Going to college is a way to start my own life and get on my own path."

Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau will hand out 10,000 "Protect the Nest" kits to students, faculty and staff before in-person classes begin Aug. 24. Each kit contains two face coverings, a 1-fluid-ounce vial of hand sanitizer and a card detailing best practices for staying safe during the pandemic.

Debbie Below, Southeast's vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Success, said university officials were pleased how students, faculty and staff complied with safety protocols during in-person summer classes, The Southeast Missourian reported.

“We fully expect very substantial compliance (in fall) to the guidelines,” she said.

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