JEFFERSON CITY — Meeting with the leaders of the University of Missouri System and Lincoln University on Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson pledged they would have the state government’s support as they reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.


"All the chancellors and president are doing a good job," Parson said.


In an hour-long private meeting before talking with reporters, Parson said they looked beyond the pandemic in their discussion.


"One of the important things we talked about is moving forward," Parson said.


The state and universities have important measures that they can take, he said.


"Testing and contact tracing is critical," Parson said.


Asked if the government support would take the form of financial support, expanded testing or other support, Parson didn’t provide any specifics.


"All of the above," he said. "Whatever we can do."


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The first day of classes on the University of Missouri’s campuses is less than three weeks away and students will start moving into residence halls next week. While Missouri has a lower overall rate of coronavirus infections than the nation as a whole, it has been rising rapidly with a string of 15 out of 17 days with more than 1,000 new cases per day.


Of the counties with UM System campuses, the infection rates doubled in July in St. Louis County, home of UM-St. Louis, and Phelps County, home to the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and Kansas City, home to UM-Kansas City. In Boone County, with the flagship Columbia campus, infection rates tripled in July.


In the news conference, flanked by the university leaders, Parson said if universities need guidance or assistance from the Department of Health and Senior Services, they will have it, he said.


"How can we help?" Parson said was his message to the leaders.


At the University of Missouri, the return plan is called "Show Me Renewal." Among issues still being considered is if the university will require students to reveal if they received a positive COVID-19 test result.


Officials are being very mindful of a safe opening, said Mun Choi, system president and Columbia campus chancellor.


"We have a very important mission of educating students and creating the work force of the state," Choi said he discussed with the governor.


Asked about the sense of concern in the community about the return of students to MU, Choi said people should keep the pandemic in the proper context. The Columbia Board of Education is considering the return of MU students when considering a new start date after Labor Day.


While there have been four tragic deaths from COVID in Boone County, the 1,314 others with the disease have recovered or are recovering, Choi said.


Students will have mandatory COVID-19 training, Choi said. They will take their temperature daily and have an application on their phones that will indicate if they should attend class. Face coverings will be required on campus and there will be quarantine housing for students who become infected.


Closing campus will result if the rate of disease spread outpaces the capability of hospitals to handle patients, he said.


"Every one of them has a plan in place for what they’re going to do" in the event of a serious outbreak, Parson said.


Never has he seen such a desire for students to return to campus as now, said Mohammad Dehghani, chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.


"We are prepared," Dehghani said. "We are ready. We are cautious."


Since the pandemic struck Missouri, MU has lost about $35 million in state revenue, suffered investment losses and faces and uncertain enrollment situation.


The state losses are budget withholdings, not cuts, Parson said, and they would be restored when and if they revenue becomes available.


The university has so far laid off 186 employees and furloughed 3,644 workers. Salary cuts and other budgetary actions have saved about $19 million.


The UM System budget is $3.2 billion, with $1.3 billion for the Columbia campus.


rmckinney@columbiatribune.com


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