AUGUST 11: Update from President McPhee on COVID-19
Dear MTSU Campus Community,
We continue to closely monitor the ongoing transmission of the coronavirus throughout the state, communicating closely with the Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Higher Education Commission as we move forward with our plans for the fall semester. The increases in COVID cases seen through July were disconcerting to us all.
However, we are so pleased to be able to report that implementation of the recent masking mandate for Rutherford County and in some other areas seems to have begun to turn the tide of COVID-19 illness in our community and state. We have a long way to go to reach levels that we would consider optimal, but the most recent trend points toward cautious optimism.
Transmission rate is the number of people, on average, that one infected person will subsequently infect. If it is less than 1, each sick person infects fewer than one person, on average, so the number of infected individuals will shrink over time. If it is greater than 1, each sick person is infecting more than one person, on average, so the outbreak will grow. Unfortunately, it has hovered at high level statewide throughout the summer. The good news is that the transmission rate for our state has finally dropped below 1 to 0.96. It is likely that our behaviors, such as mandates to wear masks and advice that we practice social distancing, contributed to this decline.
We also continue to monitor the number of cases per 100,000 people, as well as test positivity rates. In Rutherford County, which has been particularly hard-hit by COVID this summer, moving averages for new cases have dropped from 129 per day to 73 8/9 per day since July 18 and the transmission rate has dropped below the state rate and is currently at 0.82. We will continue to carefully monitor all of these important markers as we complete our careful planning for restricted opening of the campus for the fall term.
Crucial to our success in the upcoming semester will be the compliance of all students, faculty and staff with social distancing and masking requirements. All indicators continue to point toward the efficacy of maintaining six feet of distance in limiting the risk for COVID person to person spread. Similarly, the correct wearing of a mask, so that it covers both the nose and mouth, is a critical component in limiting the spread of the virus.
Our Student Health Services this week is sending a MT STRONG-branded mask to the mailing address of our enrolled students; we are also distributing them to each faculty and staff member. Also, we have partnered with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., to assemble and distribute safety packets – a mask, hand sanitizer and information – to our on-campus residents. And students in our College of Media and Entertainment have prepared a social media and outreach campaign to encourage their peers to wear masks and follow safety protocols.
Together, we need to protect our vulnerable — and work together to mitigate the spread of this illness — to stay on course for in-person instruction for the semester. Safety is preeminent, but we also need to realize the importance of education for our students and employment for our employees. If the balance tips against safety, we, in conjunction with state leaders, may have no choice but to adjust Fall campus plans to further protect our campus community.
Sidney A. McPhee