MURRAY — If things were operating as normal on the Murray State University campus right now, students and faculty would just be getting back into the swing of things following spring break.
With warmer weather forecast this week, the image of students spending time studying or just socializing in a community of hammocks on The Quad probably would become frequent. By the end of this week, students would be walking to class wearing short-sleeve shirts and shorts and there might be a group or two using the steps of Wells Hall or Lovett Auditorium to begin practice sessions for the upcoming All-Campus Sing.
Instead, the campus is rapidly becoming deserted. Since this past weekend, students, sometimes joined by parents or friends, have been removing their personal belongings from the campus’s residential colleges as the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has caused all activity to cease. All students are attending classes online inside their homes as university officials seek to stop the spread of this very contagious virus.
“Never in a million years did I see this coming,” said Gina Bingham of Eddyville on Tuesday as she prepared to empty a shopping cart full of her daughter, Sophie’s, belongings after they were removed from one of the residential colleges. Light rain falling at the time seemed to put the occasion in proper perspective. Gina then talked about how her daughter is handling this total change in direction for her sophomore year.
“She’s good, but she’s very disappointed,” Gina said. “This was her sophomore year of college and she was excited about being here with her friends the rest of this semester. Now, she’s stuck at home with her mom and dad and three brothers, so that’s not exactly what she had in mind for the end of her sophomore year.”
However, Gina said she supports the measure of closing the campus, and she said last week’s COVID-19 diagnosis of someone in her home area of Lyon County brought a full understanding of why this and other decisions turning everyday life upside down for everyone are necessary.
“Someone I know indirectly worked with the man who has it,” Gina said, explaining that a friend had assisted the COVID-19 patient – only identified as a 69-year-old male – when he had come into an Eddyville business as a customer. “Just a little unsettling, I think, is a good word for that, so yeah, we’re taking ultimate precautions here. We’re all staying six feet apart, we’re doing our social distancing, hand washing, using Germ-X, cleaning every surface, just trying to be aware of things we’ve never had to think about before.”
Murray State President Bob Jackson said the move-out process began on the campus Friday, which was actually two days earlier than had been scheduled.
“It was to have started on Sunday, but we decided to move that up. Since everyone is supposed to be out by Friday (of this week), we decided that a Friday-to-Friday (move-out period) would be best,” Jackson said Tuesday afternoon.
Jackson said the process has so far been smooth.
“We just wanted to make this an orderly, calm thing for all of our student residents and I’ve been very pleased with how things have gone so far,” he said. “I think we’re probably close to 80% as far as how many have moved out and I just want to take the time to say how proud I am of everybody involved, including (Vice President of Student Affairs) Don Robertson, (Executive Director for Auxiliary Services) David Looney, (Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services) Jackie Dudley and others.
“Every student has been emailed a specific time for them to come and remove their things, and if they can’t come at that time, we’re making arrangements for a time they can come. We want to serve our students as best we can and we’re going to work with them whenever possible.”
Jackson said each student has two hours to return to their rooms and remove their belongings. He said the majority of the students are not needing that long, from what has been reported so far. Unless otherwise specified, all students are required to have their rooms cleared by 8 p.m. Friday.
“What makes me pleased is that we have heard from numerous students, as well as their parents, who have given us so many positive comments about how this has gone,” Jackson said. “Again, that is a credit to our staff and the hard work they have done.”
The president said this move-out involves about 2,500 students, which does not include students who are residing in off-campus housing facilities. He said that if the residential colleges were at full capacity, it would include about 3,200 students. He also added that about 100 students – mostly from other countries, but also consisting of students who reside in the U.S. but are unable to return home because of the crisis – are being allowed to stay the remainder of the semester in residential colleges, but are being housed in a manner where close contact is made more difficult.
Meanwhile, things continued to progress Tuesday.
As his father, Mark, helped in removing his items, Nick Fuson, a sophomore from Brandenburg, was wearing a protective mask over his face Tuesday morning. However, he said this was just a precaution.
“I have an asthmatic condition, so I’m trying to be real careful. That’s all,” Nick said.
Mark said his son was not supposed to be on the Murray campus at all this week.
“Oh no, no. He’s supposed to be in London (England) right now,” Mark said of how Nick was scheduled to be part of a study abroad venture. All such excursions were put on hold by the university several weeks ago, starting with China, which is where COVID-19 is believed to have originated.
Mark said his family was glad Murray State took that action.
“Yeah we were and I think (other steps taken) will help keep it from spreading,” he said, focusing on the unreal nature of this situation. “This is the craziest thing. They canceled class! They canceled college! Hopefully (when the fall semester is scheduled to start in August) the curve will be on the downswing and things will be winding down. That’s kind of what everyone is counting on, I think.
“I work at the Ford Motor Company (at one of its truck manufacturing plants in Louisville) and they shut down all of our plants.”
Dr. Robert Hughes, who is the chief medical officer for Murray State’s Student Health Services, said all students were asked about their spring break plans before last week’s scheduled halt to classes. Tuesday, he said students who have been to such places as Florida – where college students from throughout the nation gathered last week and again this week, seemingly not too concerned about COVID-19 – probably are not major threats, unless they actually were with people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
“We asked not only our students, but our faculty and staff too, before they left for spring break as to where they were going,” Hughes said. “We’ve been working on this for three to four weeks and what was decided was that anybody that may be symptomatic is not to show up (for the move-out) and keep a safe distance and, obviously, if they have been exposed to a COVID-19-positive person, then they are to contact Student Health Services immediately and we’ll deal with them accordingly.
“We also have directed them with the idea that if they don’t need to be out and about (once they are back at home), then stay at home.”