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NOV. 13: Message from Dr. McPhee to students as end of semester approaches

To our students,

I know you are excited as we approach the end of the term and the upcoming holiday season. However, we still have more than a week of classes remaining, and we are watching the COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise in Rutherford County and the State of Tennessee. As a county, we recently reached the significant milestone of more than 50 active COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents. This is a signal that the virus is progressing in a dangerous direction.

I apologize for the length of this communication. But I ask each of you to take the time to read this in its entirety so that we can work together to protect the students, faculty, and staff of our campus.  

To help ensure we are able to safely finish this term, I am asking our senior administrators to carefully review any social activities scheduled to take place on campus for the remainder of the term and to make appropriate adjustments, including possibly postponing events, if necessary to protect public health. In addition, I’m asking Aramark to restrict all campus dining to “to-go” options as an additional safety precaution.

Our goal is to finish the semester with our on-campus, in-person classes still meeting and being able to hold our outdoor –with health and safety protocols in place – commencement ceremonies at Floyd Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21. We are so proud of our graduates and we look forward to this recognition of their achievements.

We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 infection numbers and will take all reasonable precautions to protect our students and guests. We will adhere to social distancing requirements at the ceremonies, including the wearing of masks and the seating of no more than six ticketed guests per student. I remain hopeful we will be able to continue with our plans for these outdoor ceremonies, without disruption from either weather or COVID-19; having to cancel would be a great disappointment for all of us. We will keep you posted if either circumstance requires us to change our plans.

If you have been invited to attend one of these ceremonies, please remember that any public gathering always carries some risk of COVID-19 exposure. I also urge you to please think carefully about whether medically vulnerable family members should instead watch True Blue TV’s video and livestream coverage of the ceremony from the safety of their homes, rather than attend in person. And, for those who attend, I ask this: Although a flurry of hugs is a classic way to celebrate graduation, please make a plan for a more socially distanced acknowledgment of your friends — maybe a festive elbow bump could take the place of a hug? 

Finally, as you confirm your holiday and end-of term travel plans, please spend time considering ways you can reduce the risks of bringing COVID-19 into your family’s home. It’s so important that we all protect our vulnerable family members by being smart and planning ahead. Our campus medical staff endorses these precautions as outlined by the American College Health Association:

  • Make it your goal now to minimize the risk of exposure and infection during the days leading to departure from campus. Any exposures could disrupt your plans to go home. Starting right now, reduce the number of people with whom you have close contact. Any close interaction with other students or with any people outside of your current living situation will present an opportunity for infection.
  • If you are in isolation or quarantine, you should not leave campus until you have been cleared for departure by health services at the conclusion of your quarantine or isolation period. Students in quarantine or isolation should not travel. Students who are ill should not travel. Travelers who are ill, are infected, or have recently been exposed to the virus will not be allowed to board airplanes and trains. 
  • “Know Before You Go!” You may want to consider having a COVID-19 test prior to heading out for the holidays. A limited number of self-testing kits are available from Student Health Services, or you may consider testing from the Murfreesboro Health Department or other source. Please remember that COVID-19 PCR and antigen tests only reflect whether you have the virus at the point in time you have taken the test. They do not represent times after that date and up to 30% of infections in college-age students are asymptomatic. A negative test is not a license to end other preventative measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing, and frequent washing of hands..  
  • If you haven’t yet received the flu vaccination, please consider doing so before you leave campus. Your loved ones will thank you for helping to protect them. 
  • Students remaining on-campus for Thanksgiving should create a holiday health care plan.  MTSU Student Health will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, from Thursday, Nov. 26 through Sunday, Nov. 29.  Student Health will re-open on Monday, Nov. 30 and will remain open for regular hours until Wednesday, Dec. 23. We will resume operations at Student Health on Jan. 4, 2021.
  • Take safety precautions during travel.  Wear a face covering at all times and consider also wearing a face shield. Stay at least six feet away from other people; if not possible on public transportation, sit as far away from other passengers as possible. Carry and use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) frequently. Use a disinfecting/sanitizing wipe to clean any touchable surfaces in the plane or car in which you are traveling. 
  • If you have especially vulnerable people in your home, you will want to consider taking the most cautious approach to your return, which will be to quarantine for the first 14 days after arrival. Quarantining in the home includes eating meals in a private space or outdoors with family at least six feet apart. You will want to use separate serving ware, utensils, glasses, and plates. Use a separate bathroom from other family members. If not possible, disinfect the bathroom after each use. Avoid physical contact including hugging, kissing, and shaking hands. Wear a mask and maintain a distance of at least six feet when in the presence of others. 
  • Although we all look forward to the big family reunion that is the hallmark of the holidays, our medical staff remind us that big family gatherings — things like Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner — are inherently risky activities for those who are vulnerable due to age or health conditions and also contribute to community spread of the virus.  Your family may want to consider placing HEPA filter units in the home and opening windows to increase air circulation. 

When we return in January for the spring semester, we will be gathering together from all over the state and across the country. Please also help us start the semester with the lowest possible COVID-19 burden by adhering to social distancing and other safety practices during the holiday season. 

To protect the health of our students, faculty, and staff, during the first two weeks of the term — from Jan. 25, 2021, until Feb. 8, 2021 — we may restrict social and extracurricular campus activities that may be required to keep the campus more safe. It is important that in the first 14 days, we limit our interactions until the time has passed when we would expect to see an outbreak of COVID due to holiday returns. I will communicate further on this matter after the start of the new year.

Once again, I want to thank all of you for the cooperation, positive attitude and hard work every member of our community has put into keeping the MTSU campus safe during this fall semester. You remind me every day of what it means to be True Blue.

If we must impose additional restrictions or make other changes to our plans, I will communicate with you as quickly as possible. I’m hopeful, however, that we will work together so that we may stay on course for the next week. And in that spirit, I want to be the first to wish for you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a safe winter break!


Sidney A. McPhee


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