Truman Completes Fall Semester Without Disruption


Although this academic year is anything but normal due to COVID-19, Truman will reach a milestone when in-person classes conclude Nov. 24.

Across the country, many institutions were forced to deviate from original plans. In some instances, classes were paused in the midst of outbreaks, while other schools reverted to online-only options for extended periods of times. According to data from the New York Times interactive tracking website, there have been more than 321,000 cases of COVID-19 among more than 1,700 colleges and universities in the United States. In Missouri alone, 37 schools self-reported more than 10,500 combined cases.

Truman came into the semester with contingency plans should a pivot to an online-only format be needed, but the circumstances on campus never necessitated such a shift during the fall. That decision would have been based largely on the University’s ability to manage quarantined and isolated students, as well as the capacity at Northeast Regional Medical Center, and at no point in the semester was either measure exceeded.

The first reported case associated with Truman came in July. As of Nov. 17, a total of 248 cases have been attributed to the University. The high-water mark for weekly active cases at Truman came that week when a total of 31 cases were reported. The University never exceeded 25 active student cases or six active employee cases in any one week.

“Over the course of the semester, we have remained committed to moving forward and stepping up to meet every challenge. Through creativity, collaboration and a focus on community, being together on campus has given us a cherished opportunity to create impactful and transformative experiences that are hallmarks of a Truman education,” said University President Sue Thomas. “To ensure a healthy and thriving spring semester, we need to maintain our vigilance over break and well into next year. As much as we wish the pandemic would be over, it is not, and we need to draw on our ability to rise to the occasion so we can successfully finish the academic year on our own terms.”

Beginning in the summer, the University started preparing for protocols that would accommodate an in-person experience in the fall, while also limiting exposure to and spread of COVID-19 on campus. Classrooms were all socially distanced, plexiglass barriers were installed in areas where face-to-face interactions take place, signs promoting safe practices were posted throughout buildings, and floors were marked with stickers establishing six-foot distances as well as the proper flow of foot traffic in normally congested areas. The University also implemented a campus-wide mask policy which has been in place since July.  

Because so many students and employees have been thoughtful in regard to following the established guidelines, these protocols have proven to be largely effective. Most Truman-related cases stem from household contacts or off-campus gatherings.

The Student Health Center is a primary resource for assisting students during the pandemic, and operations were revised to address COVID-related cases as efficiently as possible. Morning hours were reserved for traditional non-infectious treatments, while afternoons were dedicated to COVID-19 cases. A tent was set up so potential COVID-infected students were not brought into the clinic with other students.

“These students were first evaluated by a Zoom call with a nurse practitioner and then advised as to which type of COVID test to have done, or other treatment or testing as appropriate,” said Brenda Higgins, associate vice president for student health and wellness. “Students undergoing COVID testing were tested via nasal swab by a registered nurse or nurse practitioner in a tent located just outside the health center.”

The Student Health Center tested more than 600 students during the semester. Testing was also available in Kirksville through local health care providers, including Complete Family Medicine, the Adair County Ambulance District and Hy-Vee Pharmacy. There were other opportunities to get tested at clinics conducted by the Department of Health and Senior Services with the assistance of the Missouri National Guard.  

Contact tracing has also played a large part in limiting the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Truman’s program is overseen by Nancy Daley-Moore, assistant professor of health science, with the help of a full-time student worker and 20 health science students. All of the students took an online certification course, either through Johns Hopkins or the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and each student has spent a minimum of five to 10 hours investigating cases, tracing contacts and following up with individuals in quarantine via email or phone. More than 850 individuals were contacted during the fall semester.

Special attention has been paid to student-athletes who, due to the natures of their sports and the element of intercollegiate competition, could be susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus. Competition and practices were halted in the spring semester and for much of the summer. The Athletic Department worked with the Adair County Health Department, the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the NCAA to develop strategies to decrease the chances an athlete could become infected. Activities were phased in under the new guidelines.

“We started gradually in the summer with the weight room, then added conditioning sessions and finally practices,” said Michelle Boyd, head athletic trainer. “Prior to every practice, each athlete and coach are screened for symptoms and fever. Athletes with symptoms are immediately referred to the Student Health Center.”   

The NCAA divided sports into three risk-level categories, with different strategies to match their categorization, and schedules were rearranged to limit travel. The golf, tennis and cross-country teams were able to practice and compete in an abbreviated fall season. Swimming has begun competing, and basketball will officially start the season Nov. 27. Football, soccer and volleyball were moved to the spring semester.  

Every athlete is tested for COVID-19 prior to their first day of practice. Those from medium- to high-risk sports are tested intermittently to identify any positive cases that might develop. The Adair County Ambulance District and Kirksville Hy-Vee provided support for the athletic testing program, allowing the department to perform more than 600 tests.  

The pandemic has affected every aspect of University operation. Residence Life was one of the first departments to be impacted. In the spring, staff members where tasked with moving nearly 1,800 students out of the residence halls with no advanced notice and while still learning about how the virus may be transmitted.

“This was a large undertaking because it had never been done before by any Residence Life or Student Affairs professional,” said Jamie Van Boxel, director of Residence Life. “We learned that to pull off mass move-out or move-in strategies that we need to utilize technology systems whereby students and their parents can select windows of time. Ultimately, planning ahead was the saving grace that ensured a very successful, safe and smooth check-in process in the fall.”

Residence Life staff, in partnership with the move-in committee, redesigned the move-in procedures to reduce the number of students and their family members arriving at any one time. Check-in was extended to occur throughout the entire day, and it was altered from in-person inside the residence halls to car-side in the parking lots and along roadways.   

In addition to developing a plan to mitigate the risks posed by a massive event like move-in day, Residence Life had to come up with procedures for an on-campus population to live and thrive in close quarters during a pandemic. Staff members worked in partnership with the Student Health Center and the Adair County Health Department to design protocols for students who contract COVID-19 and for those who are exposed. Spaces on campus were set aside specifically for students to quarantine or isolate. Steps were put in place to relocate and feed students affected by the virus, as well as for the housekeeping team to clean and sanitize after those students were reintegrated to campus.  

Since March, Truman has expanded efforts to be considerate of how students’ academics may be affected by the pandemic. In the spring, deadlines were extended to drop classes or convert a course to pass/fail grading. Inclusion on the President’s and Vice President for Academic Affairs’ lists was based on recorded grades prior to any conversions, and a grade of P (pass) was considered sufficient for degree progress and to fulfill prerequisites.

“We understand it can be difficult for students to balance academics with everything else during the pandemic. To make it easier, Truman emphasized flexibility and grace in the context of our routine,” said Janet Gooch, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Learning continued uninterrupted, perhaps through different modes of delivery and in different places, but it continued nonetheless. Students, faculty and staff worked collaboratively and cooperatively to deliver the quality education and high-impact experiences that are the hallmark of Truman, in spite of the pandemic.”

For the 2020-21 academic year, Truman remains committed to an accommodating approach. Many courses are offered in a hybrid format to limit face-to-face interactions, as well as online-only options for those who do not feel comfortable with in-person classes. Academic support services, including the Writing Center, the Center for Academic Excellence and tutoring services, still found ways to meet students’ needs. The attendance policy was revised so students would not be penalized if they needed to quarantine or stay home because they experienced symptoms. Faculty members were encouraged to work with students affected by quarantine or isolation and allow for extra time in completing assignments. All of these adjustments will carry over into the spring semester.

Repercussions from the pandemic can also be seen in University recruitment efforts. With many high schools in the state still disrupted, the Admissions Office has made multiple adjustments as traditional timelines have proven to be irrelevant in terms of gauging the effectiveness of the current recruitment cycle.

“We are seeing applications come in later than usual, likely because students could not visit colleges all spring and summer, and applying for college has not been a priority with students having to adapt to their senior year of high school,” said Shari Fieser, assistant director of admission – campus events and visits.

To accommodate prospective students, the University has tried to identify the information they need at the right time in this delayed cycle and reach them in a variety of ways. The Admissions Office has utilized a video conferencing platform to create virtual showcases events and has participated in virtual high school visits and college fairs. The admission’s website now features a live chat so students can get quick answers to questions all throughout the day. Also, with ACT and SAT testing disrupted this year, the University has added a test-flexible policy so students can apply without a standardized test score.

In-person campus visits have resumed, with all visitors required to wear a facial covering and complete a self-symptom check prior to arrival, and all guests are asked to fill out a contact tracing form. The facilities in the visitors’ center have been socially distanced and adjusted for capacity, and all spaces are sanitized after each visit.

“Truman has always valued the individual experience, so offerings, though more limited in volume, have not been vastly different in experience,” Fieser said. “Visitors have still been able to meet one on one with our admissions counselors and receive their own tour guide to make sure they are able to see the parts of campus most important to them.”

While the fall semester was completed without disruption, it is important for all students and employees to understand the pandemic is not over yet. Truman-related cases remained flat for most of the semester, but cases in Adair County surged in November.

“The fact that we were able to manage our case load and stay in person all semester is incredible,” Daley-Moore said. “Many in the Truman community worked to make healthy decisions. My concern, though, is people have started to become lax as the semester has progressed, and if we start next semester with a lax attitude we could be in trouble.”

During the summer, Residence Life developed an honor code all on-campus students are being asked to keep in mind during the break. It states: we are all in this together; what I do impacts you; what you do impacts me; what we do impacts all of us.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to take this pandemic with the utmost seriousness,” Van Boxel said. “Wearing a mask, limiting in-door social gatherings and keeping family units small are all necessary steps to ensure that our campus community can return for a successful spring semester.”

Truman has encouraged students to self-quarantine prior to leaving for winter break and returning in January. Students are also advised to avoid large gatherings during break in an effort to limit possible exposure to the virus, and masks should be worn in public and when social distancing is not possible.

“COVID-19 is not going away, but we can lessen its impact by being mindful of our behaviors,” Daley-Moore said.

Truman posts all information and communications relative to COVID-19 online at Visitors to the site can find helpful links for academics, health and wellness and frequently asked questions. All major announcements since January 2020 have been archived on the page, and any future updates related to the virus will be posted there as well.