The Taskforce met on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing coronavirus situation and the Missouri Southern COVID-19 plan. Discussion in the meeting centered on a proposed plan from the Southern athletics program regarding spectators at basketball games.

Fall athletics have been cancelled this semester due to the ongoing pandemic which has shut down much of the country. Southern has decided to go forward with winter sports this semester but has not made a decision on whether spectators would be allowed at sporting events.

The MIAA has released a plan which proposes limiting the total capacity of sporting arenas at twenty-five percent capacity with social distancing and facemasks being mandatory. However, universities have the final say in allowing spectators at sporting events as well as the limitations on those events. Home basketball games are played at Leggett & Platt Athletic Center which can seat up to 4,000 spectators. At twenty-five percent capacity basketball games would seat up to 900 people in the arena.

Nurse Practitioner and Director of the Willcoxon Health Center Julie Stamps weighed in on the campus situation regarding COVID-19 and the possibility of opening the campus.

“Our phone has been ringing non-stop, Wednesday has looked like a Monday because we’re two weeks out from fall break and [COVID-19 positives] are ramping up for us. I can’t imagine what would happen if we opened up further,” said Stamps.

From a state health perspective, Missouri has had increasing problems with the amount of people testing positive for COVID-19. According to the Department of Higher Education COVID-19 dashboard, cases have increased by 12,385 people as well as 1,400 new hospitalizations and 76 new deaths in the past week.

Locally, the city of Joplin has had 229 new positive cases in the last seven days with 59 testing positive on Tuesday.

Discussion focused on three weeks through the end of December and beginning of July.

Proposed by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Paula Carson, the three weeks would serve as an experimental period for Southern to evaluate the success of COVID-19 restrictions at basketball games.

“My thought was that during that time when we don’t have classes [over winter break] could be a good little experimental time,” said Carson. “I, individually, am not opposed to the basketball plan in the last half of December and first week of January.”

Concerns regarding student health and the recent hospitalization of a staff member were brought up by members of the Taskforce. Currently, Southern does not allow non-students to visit campus as protection for students and faculty, but the plan by the athletics program would allow community members to spectate basketball games.  

“We still have restrictions on the library and we’re seriously considering allowing 900 people to gather and calling it a potential experiment to see how it goes when its already hospitalized one of our faculty and could very well kill people,” said Faculty Senate President Dr. Mikh Gunderman, “I’m in agreement with Julie [Stamps], our numbers aren’t looking good, they’re looking worse especially with flu season coming.”

Statistics show that COVID-19 is intensifying around the state and locally as many communities relax restrictions on mask enforcement. The city of Joplin does not currently have an ordinance requiring mask usage in public places, and relaxing restrictions could increase positivity rate.

“We should be looking at five percent [positivity rate] or less before we should start opening up as a community. We’re [Joplin] well past that and we’re looking at opening even further,” said Stamps.

“We’re trying to do things in a community with higher [COVID-19] numbers than we should, and I don’t think it’s going to be successful; at what cost does it come if we open more fully?”

Indeed, opening up campus to visitors at basketball games could pose a health risk to students, but this is not the only place on-campus which would be open to visitors. Any plan which opens the campus to community sports spectators would also include provisions which would allow for community members to attend events.

“There will be no double standards, if we open to athletic events then we would include a provision for academic events to submit a plan which respects COVID-19 requirements,” said Carson.

The Taskforce voted overwhelmingly, 13-5, against allowing spectators at basketball games. However, the Taskforce is an advisory committee and does not have final say on policy issues at Southern. Any decision on this policy would fall under the purview of the President’s Council which Carson and Athletics Director Jared Bruggeman both serve on.

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