Illustration of Coronavirus COVID-19

COVID Update

COLUMBUS, Miss.--Mississippi University for Women remains vigilant against COVID-19.

The W has taken numerous steps and made countless changes to combat the coronavirus. Nearly a year into the pandemic, The W President Nora Miller said the school is committed to ensuring the safety of everyone on campus.

“I am proud of our response to the pandemic,” Miller said. “Everyone on this campus has played an important role in protecting the health and safety of this community. It is very important that we maintain this vigilance to lessen the risk of spreading the virus on campus and in the community. I’d like to encourage everyone to get the vaccine as it becomes available.”

The national rollout of the vaccine is the latest step in efforts to fight against the spread of the coronavirus. At The W, Miller said the university has stressed the importance of maintaining its health and safety protocols and building a campus culture where adherence is expected.

Initially, Miller said the biggest challenge in fighting the coronavirus was keeping up with the changing and sometimes conflicting guidelines. She said it also was difficult to obtain necessary supplies like toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and disinfectant. Despite those problems, Miller said The W did a good job communicating its plan and protocols on its website.

“We learned students also wanted to get emailed updates,” Miller said. “Student leaders also helped us to spread awareness and encourage compliance.”

Miller praised the work of a 41-member campus-wide task force that devised a plan for the return to campus. The task force formed committees focused on Health and Safety, Academic Continuity, Faculty & Staff Well-Being, Student Well-Being, Business Operations and Communication & Events. 

Since then, Dr. Tammie McCoy, dean and professor of nursing, said challenges have evolved. Initially, there was concern about students missing valuable clinical/practicum and internship times, but she said the faculty provided creative options that allowed each student to meet the course outcomes while learning to be the best in their field.

McCoy said revisions that enhanced the Safe Owl Pledge, which offer guidelines to help keep people safe, and adjustments to the clinical/practicum/internship policies ensured students knew how to stay safe.

“Some were simple things such as wearing a facemask and shield in the practice lab or while at the clinical site,” McCoy said. “Others were adjusting the schedules to allow students to stay within a specific group to further limit exposures.”

McCoy said the biggest challenge has been the sites that allow for the practicum. Some sites restricted the numbers of students, while others started tele-practice to allow students to have that valuable practicum experience. For the classroom experience, McCoy said students have been assigned seats that are six feet apart and have been encouraged not to socialize in large groups.

Through it all, though, McCoy said The W nursing students remained mostly on campus. Speech-language pathology students had virtual coursework with tele-practice practicum, while the master of public health and public health majors are usually online so the environment on campus didn’t change. Kinesiology students had options for face-to-face instruction or to use Zoom.

McCoy said the changes have been successful and that students have adapted. She said The W is focused on preparing the students to be successful, helping them to learn and encouraging them.

“Our faculty and students realized the importance of communication, especially with the additional barriers of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),” McCoy said. “They also learned about the isolation of individuals who had limited contact with others. Our students learned the good and bad of nursing, how to improve communication with patients and how valuable those providers at the bedside really were. The students have seen themselves as important members of the healthcare team.

“I think we have done an amazing job in dealing with COVID.”

Andrew Moneymaker, the director of Housing and Residence Life, said coordination has been a key to The W’s fight against the coronavirus. He said his department has received support from the Campus Health Center, Dr. McCoy, Sodexo (dining services), Student Life, Counseling Center and Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Jess Harpole to fight the pandemic.

Moneymaker said his staff has created a schedule to sanitize the residence halls (common areas and hallways) no less than once every two weeks. His office’s programming for students now includes more virtual or passive programs instead of in-person programs. Moneymaker praised a “great group of Residence Advisors” for working hard to stay in contact with their residents.

“Since the pandemic started, the RAs have done their floor meetings virtually along with their programs,” Moneymaker said. “They still stay in contact with each of their residents through our Resident Interaction Logs and make sure their residents are taken care of.”

Angie Atkins, the director of Resources Management, said protecting students involves misting each classroom in Canvas between classes, enforcing social distancing (six feet apart), providing inventory for equipment that helps prevent COVID (gloves, masks, alcohol wipes, disinfectant spray, gowns, face shields, desk shields, hand sanitizer, thermometers), spraying hallways of buildings and door handles, quarantining when appropriate, wiping down work stations after use and stocking wipe and hand sanitizer stations on campus.

Atkins said four people are assigned to mist, or disinfect, each classroom after every meeting, and that each room/hallway gets sprayed a minimum of two times per week. She said her office is in the process of hiring more people to do the misting.

Carla Lowery, The W’s chief information officer, said the small groups within the Campus Renewal Taskforce, which were organized last summer, continue to share information to keep everyone safe. She said students have been required to complete the Safe Owls Training, which educates them on transmission and campus policies, and to take the pledge. This was done last fall and for this semester.

Lowery also said employees had to complete COVID in the Workplace training. She said video progress reports, video updates by President Miller and a Campus Renewal Taskforce weekly email helped educate everyone on campus about new protocols.

“As a campus we came together very quickly and easily,” Lowery said. “We have a great campus family. Everyone was willing to do their part, and still are. Once classes started in the fall, we were still tweaking our plan to make it work for us and the current environment. The only major change we made for the spring was the required COVID testing for residence hall students.”

Feb. 1, 2021
Contact: Adam Minichino
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