UM spokesperson says Show Me Renewal effectively addresses the pandemic, some students not so sure

While UM Director of Media Relations Christian Basi said the Show Me Renewal Plan is complete and flexible enough to keep the community safe, many students said it is too narrow to meet the moment.

The Show Me Renewal Plan, MU’s outline for its response to COVID-19, is “very complete” and “flexible enough to change,” UM Director of Media Relations Christian Basi said. However, some students are skeptical about whether the plan can sufficiently curb the pandemic’s spread on campus.

Show Me Renewal addresses aspects of campus life such as moving some classes online, mask mandates, social distancing and Truman the Tiger-themed safety reminders on campus sidewalks. The plan’s position on combating the virus, Basi said, will not include widespread asymptomatic testing and will instead focus on encouraging students to self-monitor and seek a test only if they show symptoms of the virus.

Basi said the team that created Show Me Renewal, which includes MU Chancellor Mun Choi and other administrative officials from across disciplines, took its advice on tracking campus COVID-19 cases from MU Health Care, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control. To focus testing on symptomatic individuals, he said, was what they recommended.

“We are making sure that we're focused on those individuals who are symptomatic and asking everyone else to engage in the appropriate behaviors, such as wearing a mask and social distancing,” Basi said. “This is what our medical experts are telling us is the best and most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Show Me Renewal’s website explains in its Student FAQ section that MU does not plan to widely test asymptomatic people partially because of “issues with false positive and negative test results.” Basi said false negative results would give students a false sense of security, allowing them to further spread the virus, and false positives would create unnecessary panic.

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, senior editor at Harvard Health Publishing at Harvard University’s medical school, wrote in an Aug. 17 article that the reported false negative rate varies from 2% to 37% and the false positive rate sits at 5% or lower.

The FAQ page also cites “the low prevalence of the virus in Boone County” as a reason to focus testing on symptomatic individuals. As of Sept.1, Boone County has recorded 2,614 cases and 7 deaths and has a test positivity rate of 44.6%.

Basi pointed to other counties with large colleges, such as St. Joseph County, Indiana, and Orange County, North Carolina, to support his belief that Boone County has a low prevalence of COVID-19. St. Joseph County is home to the University of Notre Dame, which postponed in-person classes for two weeks, and Orange County is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has cancelled in-person classes for the fall semester.

As of Aug. 26, Boone County has a COVID-19 case rate of 1,192 cases per 100,000 people and 3.789 deaths per 100,000. This is lower than St. Joseph County (1,781 cases per 100,000 and 34.95 deaths per 100,000) and Orange County (1,408 cases per 100,000 and 33.68 deaths per 100,000). However, St. Joseph County has a test positivity rate of 16.2% and Orange County has a rate of 7.4%, both lower rates than Boone County’s 44.6%.

Since Show Me Renewal targets symptomatic individuals to curb the spread, MU advises students to keep track of their symptoms. One avenue for self-monitoring is CampusClear, a COVID-19 symptom tracking app whose dashboard shows a list of symptoms and clears students to visit campus if they are asymptomatic.

Basi said CampusClear sends data to the university but can only track what users selected on the dashboard and not who the users are. Not filling out CampusClear currently does not bar students from anything on campus, but Basi said that in the future, MizzouRec will ask students to present their CampusClear status if they want to use the facility. The app, he said, better functions to help users recognize symptoms they may not associate with COVID-19 since it features a comprehensive list.

Show Me Renewal dictates that a student must get a doctor's referral to get tested for the virus. This policy, Basi said, will help MU be a better steward of its resources. He said the university has enough tests for students that show symptoms and wants to ensure symptomatic people will not be at risk of being denied a test because asymptomatic individuals used up the stock.

MU Health Care is currently testing people with doctor's referrals at two locations: a temporary outpost at the MU Sustainability Office on Virginia Avenue and a permanent location at Mizzou North on Business Loop 70.

Mizzou North hit its testing capacity on Aug. 24. MU Health Care Public Relations Manager Jesslyn Chew said the center had to turn away patients in late afternoon so it could process its current patients. Chew said Mondays are typically busy days for testing and added that MU Health Care is able to open more testing sites if demand rises.

“We continue to monitor our capacity, and we have infrastructure in place should we need to open additional sites,” Chew said. “We're not at that point yet, but certainly we will continue to monitor trends.”

If a student receives a positive test result, Show Me Renewal requires them to report it via a form on the website within four hours. Basi said this form goes to Residential Life, the Registrar’s Office and other departments so the university can help transition the student and their contacts to isolation housing and keep them up to date on classes.

Basi said that overall, Show Me Renewal is complete and flexible. He said its biggest strength is the amount of input that went into crafting the plan.

“It covers so much,” he said. “We've had more than 130 people working on this who are experts in their field, everything from medicine to operations on campus to communications. We've really run the gamut on the people that have been involved and how complete the planning is.”

He added that although the situation with COVID-19 will evolve throughout the semester, Show Me Renewal is “nimble and can move quickly” to address any new developments.

Some MU students, though, said they felt less optimistic about Show Me Renewal’s ability to keep the MU community safe and abate the virus’s spread.

“I’m of the opinion that [school] should have been online from the start,” junior Thomas Semkiw said.

Semkiw pointed out that UNC had fewer cases when it went virtual last week than MU does now — UNC had reported 177 student cases by Aug. 17, when it closed, and MU has 424 active student cases according to the Show Me Renewal database — and cited the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, which has 1,201 active student cases as of Aug. 28, to emphasize his belief that the virus will spread quickly on college campuses.

Junior Brooke Pulliam talked about the situation at other schools as well. She said that MU should have conducted entry testing on students and should test them regularly like other schools, such as the Ohio State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Freshman Gabriella Nechita also said MU was lacking in testing. Nechita, who is from San Diego, said her hometown had many more testing sites than Columbia. She said MU should make testing more accessible to students by eliminating the need for a doctor's referral and opening up locations closer to campus. Mizzou North is 1.5 miles from the northernmost part of MU’s campus.

Nechita said MU is putting the onus on students and disincentivizing them from getting tested because of the hurdles to doing so. Freshman Logan Frommelt said relying on students to take initiative would lead to disaster.

“The biggest mistake Mizzou has made is trusting students,” he said.

Graduate student Joshua Lisse wrote an opinion piece titled “MU needs a better, safer plan to return to campus” that was published in the Sunday-Monday issue of the Columbia Missourian. In the article, Lisse said Show Me Renewal would not be sufficient to protect the community and urged community members to demand stronger action from the administration.

Outside the article, Lisse said his concerns with Show Me Renewal are that it is too narrow to address every concern and will leave cases undetected due to a lack of entry and widespread testing. He also said he had qualms with the extent to which MU is reporting data.

The Show Me Renewal dashboard updates once weekly and reports the number of student cases, the percentage of the student body that has contracted COVID-19 and the amount of students that have recovered from the virus. Lisse said the database should update more frequently and include other figures, like positivity rate and the number of students hospitalized.

Lisse wrote in his op-ed that the university’s decision to bring students to campus might lead to unfortunate results.

“Allowing MU students to return to campus may prove to be a dangerous mistake and could come at an enormous cost,” Lisse wrote.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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