MURRAY — Wednesday evening, Murray State University took the step of halting face-to-face instruction until early April in an effort to limit the possibility of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) being spread on the campus.
This was announced on the new website the university created in recent days — www.murraystate.edu/healthupdate/ — that only deals with COVID-19 matters. The announcement, which came from the office of the university’s president, Bob Jackson, said that all faculty, staff and teaching assistants involved in instruction will begin on-site, online course training Friday. This will be followed, beginning on March 23, by instruction continuing through “online or alternative delivery methods, but not through fae-to-face instruction, through April 5.”
“During this period Murray State will remain open and staff operations will continue as normal,” the statement read, adding that this goes for all regional campuses in the Murray State system as well. “Campus residence halls will be open and dining opportunities will be available. The university will be evaluating all campus events on a case-by-case basis.”
Earlier Wednesday, Jackson spoke with the Ledger & Times to talk about the precautions the university is taking in preparation for the possibility of someone in the community testing positive.
Eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been detected in Kentucky as of Wednesday afternoon, with five in Harrison County, two in Fayette County and one in Jefferson County. Jackson was joined in the Wednesday morning interview by Chief Medical Officer Robert C. Hughes, MD, with Murray State Health Services to talk about some of the plans the university is looking at. The priority, Jackson said, was trying to make sure the community had all the facts about what actions are being undertaken and considered.
“Our job at Murray State University is to ensure good and accurate information is going out to our students, faculty and staff, and the broader community,” Jackson said. “It is important in an unprecedented time like this. We are dealing with an international issue, so how we respond matters.”
Jackson said the university has been planning in a “very careful and thoughtful manner for weeks.” He said a work group was formed that has been meeting and working on the issue within those weeks.
“As we go through this thoughtful and careful planning, the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and the broader community is of the utmost importance,” Jackson said. “Dr. Hughes is our chief medical officer and runs our health services operation on this campus, and they are doing a wonderful job. He has been in constant contact with state and local officials, the Centers for Disease Control and others. That is important because he is an important member of the advisory group as we make decisions.”
Jackson said it was important to note that leaders in the community are meeting regularly as well to monitor the spread of the illness in the state and country, and working to take precautions. He said those meetings included City of Murray Mayor Bob Rogers, Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes, members of the Murray-Calloway County Hospital, local school superintendents and members of law enforcement in regard to the issue.
“It is important that we all make good plans,” Jackson said. “We may use some or all or none in the days to come.”
Some of those plans have included the suspension of study abroad programs, and other domestic university travel until the end of April.
“A few weeks ago, we suspended international travel into the university, and out of the university, through April 30; that includes study abroad activities,” Jackson said. “We are looking at the CDC website, we are looking at countries and how they are ranked in risk. We are following that closely and looking at it hourly.
“We also have suspended non-essential, university-sponsored domestic travel through April 30 as well.”
Jackson said the university has also developed a website that would keep people abreast of what actions are being undertaken at the university to address any potential cases. He said that would be an essential tool for the university to deliver information to students and the greater public.
“Spring break is next week, so one of the things you will see on the website is a voluntary travel form,” Jackson said. “It is voluntary; but as faculty, staff and students leave campus, we want to know where they are going. That is part of what we are trying to do in our planning process.”
Other universities in the state are also considering options, with Berea College suspending classes for the remainder of the spring semester while having students complete their coursework online. Wednesday, the University of Kentucky said it would be transitioning to online classes for two weeks after its scheduled spring break next week, according to a report from the Lexington Herald-Leader. The same report said that the University of Louisville made a similar announcement almost simultaneously. While shifting to online courses is an option, Jackson said the university is remaining open for the time being.
“We are reviewing every scenario you can think of, including, if needed, the transition to online courses,” Jackson said, ahead of Wednesday evening’s announcement. “Other universities are doing that; some universities have chosen to close for the rest of the semester. ... There is a rumor out there that we are closing. We are not closing … we may move to online courses, but it is too early to determine that. That is going to be planned for, like every other scenario that we can think of will be planned for as well.”
Jackson said the university’s main concern outside of the mission of education, is the health, safety and well-being of MSU students, faculty and staff, as well as the greater community.
“It is vitally important to make sure we are all dealing with these issues in a very thoughtful manner,” Jackson said.
Hughes said the university has a great impact on the region, and in turn takes an active interest in the health and well-being of the people in the area.
“This is a rapidly-evolving situation where there is no textbook or anything to go by,” Hughes said. “It is one of those things where you have to make decisions as you go based on the information as it comes out. President Jackson has been collaborating with the other universities, the Governor’s Office and others. I think Murray State has been on top of everything and it has been close to a month that this group has been meeting.”
Meanwhile, in other related news, the Calloway County Health Department issued the following statement on Tuesday: “The Calloway County Health Department is actively monitoring the Coronavirus issue, along with all healthcare providers and community partners. State health officials are requesting additional precautions for our vulnerable populations, which is defined as a person over 60 and persons with chronic health conditions including heart, lung, or kidney disease. For this population, it is recommended that you avoid crowds and avoid cruise and non-essential air travel. In addition, visitation may be limited in nursing homes and long-term care facilities as a precaution. As of 3/10/20, there are no cases of the coronavirus in Calloway County. To stay informed, please go tohttp://kycovid19.ky.gov for the most current guidance. You can also call the state hotline if you have questions at 1-800-722-5725, call your medical provider, or call us at the health department at 270-753-3381.”