What Mississippi college presidents have to say about COVID-19 on their campuses

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All eight presidents of Mississippi’s public universities presented COVID-19 updates to the Board of Trustees of Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning on Thursday.

Since the pandemic began, this is the first known public update the IHL board has received about universities back to school plans or feedback on how those plans are playing out. Before the presidents’ update, the IHL board held their regularly scheduled meeting, which lasted approximately 16 minutes and did not address any COVID-19 concerns.

Though seven out of eight colleges have dashboards on their websites tracking COVID-19 infection numbers, those numbers are difficult to gauge system wide because there is not a standard protocol across the IHL system for how to display those numbers. This means that every university is storing and displaying that differently, which includes making different decisions about which metrics are or aren’t important.

During the Thursday meeting, all presidents reported on cumulative totals of active cases as well what percentage of their student body and staff have been infected with the coronavirus. Some did that based on the past two weeks, some did that based on the past month when the semester began. All colleges started class on Aug. 17, except for the University of Mississippi which began Aug. 24. The presidents also reported how much quarantine space they have and if any of their students or staff have been hospitalized as a result of getting the coronavirus.

None mentioned positivity rate — the percent of all those tested whose tests came back positive — which has been deemed by health experts as one of the most telling benchmarks for gauging how well the coronavirus is being contained.

Since classes began, a cumulative total of 1,400 students, faculty, and staff have been infected with the coronavirus. The presidents’ updates are as follows:

Felicia Nave, Alcorn State University

  • Fall 2020 began on August 17 in an entirely virtual format until Sept. 9, “at which time we introduced modified, in class instructions,” Nave said.
  • Approximately 70% of classes have face-to-face components and 30% of classes are entirely online.
  • There is currently one active student case and zero active employee cases; less than 1% of the student body has tested positive since the start of the semester.
  • Alcorn has set aside 23 quarantine spaces total (13 on the main campus and 10 in Natchez) and of those 23, 21 are currently available.
  • “Since the start of the semester, we are not aware of any employees who have been hospitalized because of COVID-19,” Navi said.

Bill LaForge, Delta State University

  • Approximately 65% of courses are offered in a hybrid and face-to-face method with about 35% being offered online. “We also allow faculty and students to elect to take all of their courses or teach all of their courses online if they have any concerns or fears about being present on campus during the pandemic,” LaForge said.
  • In the last 14 days, there have been a total of 12 students and 3 employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • The percentage of students and employees who have tested positive since Aug. 17 are 3.37 %of students and .85 % of employees.
  • DSU has 23 designated, separated apartments on campus for quarantine. Twenty are available today and three are in use. They also have 11 hotel rooms off campus for quarantine use.
  • No DSU students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.

Thomas Hudson, Jackson State University

  • Approximately 80% of classes are offered online.
  • Currently there two active employee cases and three student cases. “Less than 1% of our students and employees have tested positive since the beginning of the semester,” Hudson said.
  • Six students and three employees have tested positive since the beginning of the semester.
  • There are 86 spaces available on campus for quarantine.
  • No JSU students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.

Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University

  • Seventy percent of classes “are in some form of an in person component,” Keenum said.
    Over the past 14 days, there have been 80 students who have tested positive.
  • “That’s a very positive trend that we’re experiencing over the last two weeks. If you look at the fact that over the last two weeks we’ve seen the number of students who tested positive has declined by 68 percent is extremely positive for us,” Keenum said.
  • There have been five employees who have tested positive over the past two weeks.
    So far, 1.8% of our students have tested positive since the start of the school year. Less than .002% of employees have tested positive since the start of the school year.
  • MSU has an arrangement with a hotel where there are 238 quarantine rooms that can be used for students. To date, 34 students are in quarantine, leaving a total of 204 quarantine rooms available.
  • No known MSU students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.

Nora Miller, Mississippi University for Women

  • “We tried to de-densify the campus as much as possible so we’ve moved many many courses online and virtual. Over 75% of our classes are virtual,” Miller said.
  • In the last 14 days, there have been four students test positive and one employee, which is less than one percent of the student and employee population.
  • There are currently 31 spaces available for quarantine or isolation.
  • No known MUW students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.

Jerryl Briggs, Mississippi Valley State University

  • “We started Aug 17. 100 % online but since then we’ve evolved to about 30 %of our classes being face to face. From what I’ve heard, our students are appreciative and really are enjoying being in the classroom environment again,” Briggs said.
  • There are currently one student and one employee active cases, which represents less that 1% of students and employees.
  • MSVU started with 54 spaces for quarantining and 52 are currently available.
  • No known MSVU students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.

Glenn Boyce, University of Mississippi

  • Since classes began on Aug. 24, 2.5 percent of the total university population has tested positive.
    “In the last 14 days, we’ve had 177 students that have tested positive. However the current decline is 60 percent for the last seven days,” Boyce said.
  • There are currently 62 active cases on UM campus.
  • UM has had a total of 15 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • “Both of these obviously are less than one percent of our population in those areas,” Boyce said.
  • Boyce said 89.5% of on campus isolation space is available, which is reserved for people who have tested positive for Covid-19. There is 43% of quarantine space available, which is reserved for people who aren’t showing symptoms but who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive.
  • No known UM students or employees have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 since classes began.
  • Added context from Mississippi Today: As of Sept. 18, Oxford is the fifth highest metro area in the country for greatest number of new cases relative to its population in the past two weeks, according to The New York Times.

Rodney Bennett, University of Southern Mississippi

  • Over the past 14 days, USM has had 53 students and 1 employee test positive for COVID-19.
  • Our overall positive rate since the beginning of the semester is less than 1% for the student body. The actual percentage is .6% for students and .3% for employees.
  • Currently have 146 beds available on campus for quarantine.
  • One USM employee has been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.