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Students, face coverings returning to UCM campus

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WARRENSBURG — As students return to campus for the second time since the pandemic began, the University of Central Missouri is returning to requiring face coverings for indoor spaces. 

The university lifted the requirement with the close of the spring 2021 semester. 

“I’m, personally, very excited for the fall semester to get started,” President Roger Best said. “At this point, even though we’re still in the pandemic and we’re still doing COVID protocols, I think we as a university and we in society have learned how to live with a pandemic in the background, how to navigate the environment the way we’re supposed to to promote health and wellbeing. So I’m personally very excited.” 

Best said he is excited to see students returning to campus but disappointed in the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

“One reason I’m a little disappointed is that, from what I hear from scientists and medical experts, that if we’d had a greater rate of vaccinations we likely wouldn’t be experiencing the surge we are experiencing now,” Best said. “It’s disappointing we are still having to account for the potential that individuals are going to be exposed and diagnosed for COVID-19 in our own university.” 

The university recorded active cases of COVID-19 on campus throughout the 2020-21 school year. No cases were determined to have been spread or contracted on campus. 

“Last year was a tremendous year overall,” Best said. “Even though we had positive cases among our students and employees, from our knowledge we had no transmissions in classrooms or organized events and activities when our protocols were in place. Also to our knowledge, we had no significant sicknesses either as a result of being positive for COVID.”

Best said the university is doing a phased-in approach to face coverings for this semester. 

The university released information Aug. 5 that face coverings would be required for UCM shuttle and ride services, the Kickoff Experience indoor events and activities, all orientation and move-in indoor events and activities and at the Missouri Innovation Campus effective Aug. 9.

Beginning Aug. 16, face coverings will be required inside all university buildings for everyone regardless of vaccination status. 

The university is returning to double-occupancy rooms after implementing single-occupancy rooms last year. There is an option for students to request single-occupancy rooms. 

“We do recognize that individuals need to do the research themselves and need to talk to their medical providers and we encourage them to do that,” Best said. “We know that the way that we prevent the spread and the way that we can get out of some of these protocols and wearing the face coverings is if a large majority of our students, faculty and staff are vaccinated.” 

The university plans to reevaluate the guidance by Sept. 16. The university evaluates the number of cases on campus and in the community, transmission rates and the number of people vaccinated on campus. 

“As an employer, we know that we do have a responsibility to ensure that our employees themselves are not engaging in behaviors that put other employees potentially at risk and the same with students,” Best said. “That’s why we feel comfortable with a face coverings requirement in place because it promotes wellbeing. … Individual freedom doesn’t mean that you have the right to engage in behavior that could harm someone else and when we are talking about a virus that is transmittable and one way that you can reduce that transmission is having face coverings on, I do see that as something we are allowed to do as an organization.” 

Best said the guidance to wear a face covering promotes wellbeing. 

“As an individual, I really felt it was my obligation to help protect those around me; wearing a face covering, if it does that, then that is what I should be doing,” Best said. 

Best said there is not currently a plan to host vaccination clinics on campus as was done during the spring 2021 semester. 

Best said university employees are encouraged to seek out local resources such as their health care provider and pharmacies to get vaccinated. 

“For our students, we will actually be offering the vaccine in our University Health Clinic starting Monday the 16th,” Best said. “Students can actually make an appointment to go to the University Health Center and get vaccinated there.”

The university enacted the Emergency Operations Center at the start of the pandemic to evaluate how the university should respond. The UCM EOC is responsible for how the university responds to an emergency situation, such as a tornado. 

“Those who you need to deal with a pandemic is probably different than who you need to deal with a tornado, for example,” Best said. “So we moved around some of the people who are on that group so that we had the right people there to deal with a pandemic.”

As the pandemic carried on into 2021, the university made another transition.

“We realized a pandemic is really a longer-term occurrence, so we very much transitioned the duties that were associated with that EOC into individual areas,” Best said. 

Individual areas are student experience and engagement, housing, finance administration, etc. 

“It really became part of their day-to-day job to look at the environment, monitor what is going on and then recommend changes to protocols we have in place or to our structure if they saw something that needed to be done,” Best said. “Some of that goes through the vice presidents directly to me.” 

Outside of the pandemic, the university has received additional state funds this year. 

“We are certainly grateful that the state has funded us at a higher level this year,” Best said. “We’re very optimistic from both an enrollment perspective and a state support perspective.” 

Best said the university received a 3.7% increase in its operating budget, the general budget for paying employees, utilities and other basic operating expenses. 

“We also received some appropriations for renovations to W.C. Morris and to complete the education center out at the Skyhaven Airport,” Best said. “We’re continuing to see more funds for other renovations on campus.” 

Best said he is expecting some positive trends in enrollment this year and is optimistic about the start of the school year. 

“It’s always great to see our students come back into the community and support this community and really engage in a transformative education for them,” Best said. “Equally so, I’m excited for this additional support we’re getting from the state; a lot of difference that’s gonna make for us as we move forward. A lot of optimism for this academic year.” 

UCM is continuing the year-long celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the founding of the university in 1871 as State Normal School No. 2 and Homecoming celebrations are scheduled for early October. 

For more information about how the university is addressing COVID-19, visit ucmo.edu/news/media-resources/corona-virus-covid-19. 

For more information about UCM 150, visit 150.ucmo.edu. 

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