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PRCC dealing with effects of virus concerns

All sporting events, including practices, at Pearl River Community College have been postponed until March 30 due to concerns about COVID-19, commonly known as the new coronavirus, but as of Friday, the administration still expects to hold regular classes after spring break.

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges made the decision that schools should not hold practice or participate in games through March 30, said PRCC President Dr. Adam Breerwood. The NJCAA has postponed championship events until April 20.

The community college’s spring break begins Monday, and classes are scheduled to return March 23. Aside from sporting events, no PRCC events have been cancelled, said Breerwood. However, the school is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in Mississippi, and if there are more confirmed cases of the virus in the state, classes might be held online. As of Friday, there were six presumptive cases in Mississippi, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The school is in constant contact with the Mississippi State Department of Health and state offices in order to make the best decisions for limiting the spread of COVID-19, said Breerwood.

“This is definitely uncharted territory. I’ve been here for 23 years and this is just different,” said Breerwood.

Schools like PRCC that offer career technical courses or allied health courses are at a disadvantage when it comes to offering online courses compared to universities that only offer academic coursework, said Breerwood.

“It’s one thing if you’re driving a piece of heavy equipment and that’s your class. There’s only so many things you can do online,” said Breerwood.

Nursing students have to go to clinical sites, but if hospitals want to limit the number of people entering their facilities, that creates challenges for providing nursing education. PRCC is trying to get permission to use its simulated labs for more of the nursing courses than is typically allowed. Currently, the students can only use the simulated labs for 25 percent of the course, but the school is seeking permission to increase that to 50 percent.

The college is also looking at the possibility of bringing career technical students studying hands on subjects like welding into smaller class groups and potentially checking them for fevers before allowing them to go to the lab.

Over the course of spring break, the college will be working with accreditation boards to make sure that any contingency plans for classes will still fulfill accreditation requirements.

“We’re going to do everything we can over the course of next week,” said Breerwood. “We want to make sure we’re not leading people down a road where they can’t get credit.”

During spring break, the staff will be disinfecting the entire campus as a precaution to prevent the spread of virus. While the dorms will be shut down over the break, seven or eight out of state students will remain in the dorms.

“We’re trying to limit exposure and keep an eye on students and not necessarily send them back to some place out of state where outbreaks are a lot worse,” said Breerwood.

Another concern for the college is that many students are expected to travel during spring break.

“A lot of our students for spring break go down to Florida and other places, so we’re asking them to monitor where they are, wash their hands and follow MDH guidelines to try to eliminate the spread,” said Breerwood.

Administrators are aware that PRCC provides services that impact the community, like childcare, and are considering that impact in decisions moving forward, while also trying to do everything the school can to limit the spread of COVID-19, said Breerwood.

Any announcements concerning decisions to offer online courses or cancel events cancellations are expected to take place by the end of next week. Administration will communicate any updates with students through email and will provide updates on their website and social media.