Middle Tennessee State University resembled more of a ghost town than a campus Tuesday, just two days after students were originally set to return from spring break, before the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of the university. Sidewalks usually streaming with students and parking lots usually swarming with cars were silent and still as students, faculty and staff used the emergency-mandated second week of spring break to move out of dorms, prepare lessons plans and arm the school for possible exposure.
Not everywhere was quiet, however. The one and only busy venue on the expansive campus was, predictably, the Student Health Services Center, located in the Recreation Center. Rows of “white-tagged” vehicles—denoting that the drivers were faculty, staff or graduate students—filled the parking lot as the university prepped the clinic to handle infected students.
Maureen Nokes, the director of nursing at the center, is well-acquainted with the chaos. A graduate of the Providence School of Nursing in Alabama, Nokes joined the Student Health Center in 2001 and has been an integral part of the university’s new pandemic response plan. Although there have been no reported cases of coronavirus among MTSU students, the clinic remains open.
In an interview with MTSU Sidelines, Nokes described in detail the process which the clinic’s staff have established to care for and isolate possible coronavirus patients.
“Any patients who come in with any respiratory symptoms will have a mask put on them,” Nokes said. “The staff is being provided all of the personal protective equipment that they need—mask, glove, gowns, goggles— and we are cleaning, just like we do all the time.”
However, students who are concerned that they have the virus are encouraged to call the clinic before coming in.
“Call us, and let us do a triage over the phone,” Nokes said. The triage—or the checklist of symptoms that the nurses will run students through, include symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches or headaches.
“Very flu-like,” said Nokes. “(Students) could have all of them, or they could have one or two.”
For any students brought in with possible coronavirus symptoms, they will be removed to a smaller, separate waiting room, in an effort to not expose them to any other students.
Once triaged on site, if students test positive for coronavirus, they will be instructed further on how to self-isolate and protect themselves.
If an on-campus resident tests positive, and does not have an alternate housing option, they will be transferred to the on-campus Womack apartments, where they will be quarantined from other students, faculty and staff.
To clear students for “return,” they will have to undergo the requisite two-week quarantine and a number of tests.
“When they are on self-isolation, students will be taking their temperature every day. All we do is check them on that last day for any symptoms of the coronavirus, and if they don’t have any symptoms, they can go,” Nokes said.
The medical staff at MTSU are keeping up with regular updates on the virus from the Tennessee Department of Health and Center for Disease Control.
The best advice Nokes can give students?
“Wash your hands!” Nokes laughed. “A lot of people don’t, but they need to wash their hands with soap for 20 seconds. That, and stay out of crowds.”
Parents and students react
While the MTSU clinic buzzed with activity, campus residential areas were decidedly less so. Between the occasional gusts of wind and the infrequent chirps of mockingbirds, the only sounds heard were that of the few students toting bins of belongings down flights of dorm stairs.
One such student, MTSU sophomore Tristan Doty, had mixed feelings about the class closures. Stuffing a bag into his SUV in the Nick’s Hall parking lot, Doty looked contemplative when asked how he felt about the school’s response to coronavirus.
“I think the government definitely could’ve responded a lot faster, maybe shut a lot of things down. But (MTSU)–I think it’s pretty good. I think it’s probably a good idea to cancel a lot of this stuff.”
While Doty said he understood his fellow students’ worries regarding the transition to online classes, he was quite confident that his classes would function sufficiently.
“I’ve heard from three of my professors already,” he said, shrugging. “There’s just some changes to the schedule. That’s mainly what it is.”
What Doty does find difficult is missing the rest of his spring semester.
“I mean, it kind of sucks. Especially if we paid for dorms and stuff,” he said. “I feel like we’re probably not going to get any of that (money) back.”
Benita Debord, a teacher at Bledsoe County High School whose son is an MTSU freshman, had no such worries as she also pulled in to the dorm parking lot, van ready for packing.
“Would it be nice to get money back? Yes,” she nodded. “Do I understand the position they’re in? Yes—I guess as an educator myself I understand the position they’re in. It never really occurred to me that I would get money back. It’s just money I had set aside for college, and you know, life happens.”
DeBord is in full agreement with MTSU proactive policies, and is thankful for the level of communication that the university has been carrying out.
“I think they’re following guidelines, I really, really do. They’ve been very informative on the parent site (and) on Facebook, and I’ve been able to follow everything and have (my son) double check what he needs to. I’ve been very appreciative of that.”
MTSU’s social media outreach is what brought DeBord to the dorm parking lot, prepared to help her son pack up for his extended absence.
“It is an upheaval. We’re not totally moving out—we’re just getting the necessities,” she said.
“He does well with online things, so he’s transitioned very well there.”
She paused, considering, but then smiled good-naturedly.
“I’m worried, as a mom, for his college experience, because I enjoyed mine, but you know. We do what we can do.”
To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News