MTSU starts new fall semester amid rising COVID-19 cases in Middle Tennessee


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – Monday is the first day of the new semester for students and staff at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

“It has been a long year and for people that work with Student Affairs, students are in our hearts. So, it’s really hard for us when they are away from campus,” said Dr. Debra Sells, MTSU Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services. “We’re delighted to have them coming back. We’re cautiously optimistic. We are working hard to make sure we can create an experience that is what the students expect and want in terms of activity levels but that also protects them, keeps them safe. So, it’s an exciting time with maybe a little bit of anxiety.”

The new academic year is starting amid rising COVID-19 cases in Middle Tennessee, including Rutherford County. MTSU’s COVID-19 dashboard updates the cases within the school’s community. As of August 19th, it showed there were 15 employees and 13 students who tested positive for the virus though classes were not in session yet.

“Particularly with faculty and staff who have young children that have gone back into the public school systems, that’s driving a lot of what’s happening with our faculty and staff and student numbers,” said Dr. Sells. “We have very few students up until this week that had been on campus. And I imagine as students come in from all across the country, and particularly from all across Tennessee, we will see some increase in numbers.”

The school’s goals are to keep the case numbers as low as possible and for those who test positive, keep them from being hospitalized.

“We offer vaccinations here on campus, they are not mandated, but they are certainly strongly recommended. So, students can get vaccinated at no cost by going to their student health clinic here on campus and our medical staff will be happy to help them with that,” Dr. Sells explained. “We’re really strongly suggesting to students that one of the best ways to help us have what they think of as a normal semester is if we can get the vast majority of our students to be vaccinated.”

She said the school also has plans in place for contact tracing whenever students test positive for COVID-19.

“If students live on campus, we have some bed spaces set aside that we will use for quarantining and isolation,” Dr. Sells said. “Our medical staff will be working with students on campus and students who live in the residence halls are required to report to our medical staff if they get a positive test, whether on campus or off.”

She added that they won’t know for sure right now, but she expects undergraduate enrollment to be down a bit this semester. However, the school has seen tremendous growth in its graduate program as the pandemic propelled people to pursue the graduate degrees they’d previously delayed.

Dr. Sells remained positive that students will remain resilient with how they’re affected by the pandemic.

“They are an amazing group of young people. And they do bounce back,” she said. “I have high hopes that the majority of them are going to have a great year, and those that need a little extra support, we’ll be here to help them with that.”

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