COLUMBIA, Mo. — The University of Missouri has reported nearly 1,200 COVID-19 cases since reopening. Mizzou released more restrictions, but are trying something new to get students’ attention about safety.
The university announced Tuesday, Sept. 8, face masks would be required everywhere on campus, even outside. Later that day, Mizzou clarified the new restriction and said students don’t have to wear a mask if they are outside and alone.
In addition to the new restriction of wearing masks in groups outside, Mizzou is also trying a new approach by hiring influencers.
Mizzou freshman biology major Caleb Poorman hasn’t always been a fan of wearing a mask.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t like the mask at first because it was more difficult to breathe, annoying and I forgot it all the time,” Poorman said.
Poorman is now being paid to wear a mask while posting on social media.
“We post ourselves wearing a mask and in the caption, we would put something like, ‘Remember to wear the mask,'” Poorman said. “With the number of followers I had in my feed, they told me they would like to present the opportunity for me to promote corona hygiene.”
Poorman doesn’t work for the University, but for a media company called Glacier. He said there are about five influencers paid by Glacier for posting to Instagram and other social media sites.
Mizzou Communications Director Christian Basi said the university paid $10,300 for the social media campaign and is runs through Sept. 25. He said the university could extend the contract with the company if needed.
“We asked them, ‘Hey, we need you to target MU students, our MU community, and spread the message about what the expected behavior is,'” Basi said.
Currently there are 562 active student cases at Mizzou, but Basi said that’s down 100 cases within the past three days.
“We are still waiting for numbers to come in relating to Labor Day weekend,” Basi said. “That’s still a concern.”
Mizzou also has hired more than two dozen contact tracers just to trace cases on campus.
“We’ve been able to get to all the cases, they’ve said we are between one and two days now of contacting people,” Basi said. “They certainly want to get that down under one day.”
With fewer people on campus this semester, Basi said students need to remember there are still restrictions for large gatherings.
“We are seeing some gatherings and some parties off campus and as we see those reports are dealt with and held accountable,” Basi said.
Greek life does not allow any gatherings or activities on their properties this semester, Basi said, and those properties do not belong to the campus.
Basi said most students are complying well with the restrictions and that’s why he believes the number of cases has decreased.
“We still have two-thirds of our classes that still have some sort of in-face component,” Basi said.
Poorman said it can be overwhelming with the constant change in restrictions.
“I’m confused myself because the policy has changed so many times,” Poorman said.
Basi agreed it can be confusing for students, but there is no perfect way to handle this situation.
“The issue is as always, this is a constantly developing situation and it has been since it first hit the campus in March,” Basi said. “We continue to have to make adjustments.”
Poorman said it’s worth following the university’s policies to keep everyone safe and stay here on campus.
“It’s important to remember that Mizzou is doing everything they can for the students to keep them safe, happy and on campus,” Poorman said. “So, we have to realize every policy they make. It’s to help us.”
Since the start of the school year, Basi said nearly 400 students have been referred to the Office of Student Accountability, which means students have had to complete community service or possibly research the virus for not complying with the campus restrictions. There are also harsher punishments like being suspended or expelled, but Basi said the university has not had to use that route yet.
Basi also said the community could report unsafe behavior online if they see students not cooperating with Mizzou’s restrictions.