Monitoring, testing, isolation and contact tracing procedures will all be in place at MU this fall in the hope of slowing the virus’ spread on campus and maintaining in-person operations and classes, under a plan announced Monday.

Full details and updated information will be provided on the MU Show Me Renewal website. Here’s a look at the key points of MU’s containment plan:

Monitoring

In a letter to the campus community Monday, Interim MU Chancellor Mun Choi said monitoring symptoms is one of the “strongest defenses” to slow COVID-19’s spread, along with social distancing.

MU’s plan requests everyone on campus consult a symptom checklist daily. If any of the symptoms apply, people should stay home and contact either the MU Student Health Center or their health care provider. Students should not attend classes or visit any public areas and should practice good hygiene.

If students present with symptoms and receive a virus test, they should continue to monitor those symptoms and separate themselves from others.

Testing

MU has the ability to test “any student who shows symptoms of COVID-19,” according to the plan. Those tested will receive a PCR, or virus test, and possibly an antibody test.

The university does not intend to do widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals due to concerns surrounding false positive and negative tests, as well as what the plan characterized as the “low prevalence of the virus in Boone County.”

However, a lack of testing for those who are asymptomatic could pose problems in stopping the spread of the virus on campus, as case numbers for young people have been increasing nationally in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, Boone County has had 390 cases, 107 of them still active. Of the total cases, 94 have occurred in people ages 20-24. Tuesday saw 25 new cases, the largest daily increase yet. Two people have died of the virus in Boone County. Also Tuesday, the state surpassed 1,000 deaths.

Under the plan, the MU Student Health Center or health care providers will notify those tested of the results within 24 hours. Until then, people who have been tested are urged to stay home.

Isolating

Students who test positive must self-isolate, according to MU’s plan, but the process differs depending on whether they live on- or off-campus.

On campus

Students who live in campus housing, including residential halls and apartments leased by MU, will have a 10-day isolation period, “until you are three days with no fever, your symptoms have improved and it has been 10 days since symptoms first appeared,” according to the plan.

An MU Residential Life staff member will contact on-campus students at the start of the isolation period to discuss next steps, ask to reach out to family and roommates and assist in relocating students to the isolation housing options. MU has not yet said where isolation housing will be.

During isolation, a member of the Care Team — a group under the MU Office of Student Accountability and Support — will be in contact daily with isolated students, let their instructors know what’s going on, coordinate make-up work and help monitor recovery.

Meals will be delivered to students’ doors at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Weekend meals will be delivered at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The meals will be deducted from dining plans or Tiger and Gold Cash accounts.

Students in isolation will have their location provided to MU Police for awareness and “appropriate response if needed,” according to the plan.

Once isolation is over, MU Residential Life staff will assist students in moving back into their rooms. Students will need to show a copy of their public health release statement to the MU Care Team member who has been in contact with them daily.

Off campus

Students living off-campus will be contacted by staff from the Office of the Dean of Students to review isolation plans, ask to contact family and encourage “establishing an account with a local grocer for food delivery,” according to MU’s plan.

Public health contact investigators from Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services will reach out to all students who test positive.

Once off-campus students are released from isolation, they will need a public health release statement to return to campus activities.

Contact tracing

MU will partner with local city and county contact tracing teams to track the spread of the virus, according to MU’s plan. The combined teams will operate in accordance with HIPAA, FERPA and other laws and use the Research Electronic Data Capture, or REDCap, system. MU’s team will report to the MU Student Health Center.

Students who test positive will be contacted by a Columbia/Boone County public health investigator to begin the tracing process. The students will be asked to identify everyone with whom they had close contact 48 hours before the positive test, and that list will be forwarded to a contact tracer. These tracers will not be given the name of the positive student and will warn all potential contacts by phone or email.

Close contacts are defined under MU’s plan as “a person who has had contact of 15 minutes or more and been within 6 feet of a person who tested positive for the virus.”

Those contacted by a tracer will not be informed of the identity of the positive student, only that they may have been exposed.

The joint effort could be complicated by local financial concerns surrounding contact tracing. The Health Department has been unable to access federal funds to hire new contact tracers, KBIA reported Tuesday, as it awaits federal guidance.

Exposure and education

Those who are contacted by tracers will be encouraged to self-quarantine at home and maintain social distance for 14 days until their last exposure. They are also encouraged to closely monitor symptoms and should notify the contact tracer and a health care provider if symptoms develop.

Campus Facilities will thoroughly disinfect rooms of close contacts of on-campus students who test positive.

Students who have concerns regarding how another student is following MU policies and protocols are encouraged to report those concerns to the Office of the Dean of Students. Compliance with these COVID-19 precautions fall under the system’s Collected Rules and Regulations for student conduct.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.
  • Galen Bacharier is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has reported on higher education, state government and breaking news. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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