MOUNT VERNON – Mount Vernon Nazarene University has recorded its first COVID-19 cases of the school year, just 10 days after students began returning to campus.
There are currently four active cases at MVNU, according to the university's online tracker, which was updated Monday. There are 25 individuals being monitored.
It's unclear whether the infected individuals are students, faculty or staff members. It's also unclear how many individuals have been tested since students returned to campus. MVNU and Knox Public Health did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday morning.
The university defines an "active" case as an individual who has tested positive and is currently under medical supervision. Individuals being "monitored" are campus community members who have been exposed and are in quarantine, according to the university's website.
MVNU began moving new students in on Aug. 15, and classes began Aug. 19. The first semester is scheduled to run through Nov. 24.
The university said in its reopening plan that "most of our classes will be instructed face-to-face," although some larger classes would require a hybrid approach (a combination of remote and in-person learning). Students will also be given the opportunity to attend chapel in-person or remotely.
MVNU said its residence halls will "operate at full capacity, with modification to social gathering spaces to account for recommendations regarding physical distancing." Students will only be allowed to visit with friends and family on certain areas of campus, and overnight guests will not be allowed in residence halls.
Students were encouraged to "take enhanced precautions" prior to returning to campus, including conducting a two-week self-quarantine and avoiding travel.
Students, faculty and staff are required to wear masks when inside buildings, "and in all other situations where physical distancing is difficult," MVNU's plan states. Students are not required to wear masks in their apartment or dorm rooms, or in the cafeteria when they are seated and eating. The university provided each student with two reusable MVNU masks last week upon arrival.
Students are required to maintain adequate physical distancing (six feet), both inside and outside, "when situations allow," the plan states. University-sponsored events will be re-imagined to meet state guidelines for social gatherings.
While students are allowed to travel off-campus, they are encouraged to "follow the same precautions as used on campus, including wearing a mask and physical distancing," the university's plan states. "When possible, we ask students to limit the number of trips and avoid close contact, closed spaces, and crowds."
When students arrived to campus last week, they were required to sign HIPAA and FERPA acknowledgement forms, which will allow MVNU to "engage students in COVID-19-related health conversations," and will also allow MVNU to conduct required communication with public health authorities "for the protection of the campus community."
By signing the agreement, students also acknowledged that MVNU reserves the right to test for COVID-19 "as it believes appropriate to protect students and personnel," the university's reopening plan states.
Students, faculty, and staff are required to electronically monitor symptoms every day. Digital thermometers have been provided to each student in order to check temperatures as part of daily symptom monitoring.
Students who have a temperature of 100.1 degrees or higher and exhibit COVID-19 symptoms are required to contact their Resident Assistant (RA) via text or email. The RA will then "start the protocol to assess your symptoms and alert Student Health Services," the university's plan states.
MVNU has increased its nursing staff this school year "to provide increased health care access to our students," the plan states. The university's partnership with Knox Public Health will allow it to provide standard testing of "those presenting symptoms, tests required for athletes prior to competitions, and other tests that may be deemed advisable in light of developing public health circumstances."
Students believed to be exposed to COVID-19 will be assigned a room in designated quarantine space on campus away from other students, as space allows.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be isolated from the campus population until they can safely return home to recover. Those students will have access to remote learning so that their education is not disrupted.
MVNU has intensified its cleaning practices and protocols since March, its plan states, and staff members will continue to follow the latest guidelines from local, state and federal health officials.
There is a great deal of flexibility attached to MVNU's reopening plan. While the university is planning to conduct classes mostly in-person this fall, with some hybrid learning, it states that students should be prepared for a potential shift to remote learning.
"Because every class will have the capability to instruct through remote learning, we are prepared to quickly transition to online learning if necessary for the well-being of the MVNU community," the plan says. Internet capacity has already been increased on campus for that reason, MVNU said.
The fourth and fifth pages of the university's reopening plan feature a pledge, in which students are expected to commit to protecting themselves and the Knox County community this school year. The end of the pledge acknowledges in no uncertain terms the challenge of attending college during a pandemic.
"I understand the risks that come with a pandemic," the pledge reads. "After thoughtful prayer, I have decided that the value of an on-campus education is worth accepting the risk. I understand that while the school and my classmates are committed to a healthy environment, COVID-19 is highly communicable, and the risk of contracting the virus cannot be eliminated.
"In addition to the commitment set forth above, I acknowledge the possibility that further outbreaks could curtail normal school events and might lead to an unscheduled shutdown of the campus."
It's unclear how many students have returned for in-person instruction this fall. According to MVNU's website, a total of 2,205 students enrolled in the university last fall.