With the first day of classes for many Missouri universities fast approaching, Gov. Mike Parson and state higher education leaders Thursday stressed ensuring safe environments for students, faculty and staff.
“We found, of course, that we are all facing very similar challenges,” said University of Missouri-St. Louis Provost Marie Mora. “But one of the things that we need to emphasize is that when we start in the fall, we need to be safe in the fall.”
She spoke at a news conference following a meeting she attended with Parson, University of Missouri System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi, Missouri University of Science & Technology Chancellor Mohammad Dehghani and Lincoln University President Jerald Jones Woolfolk.
Parson said he would help the state’s universities in whatever way he could. This included obtaining financial assistance, guidance from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and COVID-19 testing.
Parson also emphasized the importance of effective contact tracing in having universities remain open throughout the fall semester. He urged counties to keep allocating their federal CARES Act money and prioritize both testing and contact tracing.
Concerns about how universities will conduct contact tracing if a student tests positive for COVID-19, particularly at MU, have come up in the past.
Last month, campus leaders announced that MU was considering a walk-up COVID-19 testing site and requiring students to self-report. Prior to this announcement, MU had said it would not require students to let the university know if they had contracted the virus. Boone County and MU health officials have stressed that county health agencies are charged with reporting and following up on positive cases, not patients.
In addition, Columbia City Council members have recently expressed frustration about the slow distribution of CARES Act funding, which must be used by the end of 2020. The money can be used to help with contact tracing, which Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department was overwhelmed with just last month.
Parson said that, during the meeting, he discussed operations in the far future — especially in the wake of the state’s budget crisis that has hit higher education hard. He pointed to the importance of Missouri’s universities in workforce development as the state’s economy continues to improve.
“I need (universities) out there every day producing young men and women to go into the workforce,” he said. “That is key to our state.”