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With the major caveat that we are still early in the process, we should all be pleasantly surprised at the success of starting the fall semester at Montana State University.

The number of coronavirus infections has been small and, anecdotally at least, most students seem to be complying with the mask-wearing, social-distancing and disinfecting mandates issued by university officials as part of the campus reopening process. And all this while enrollment has remained robust with more 16,200 students attending class – the fifth highest enrollment in school history.

And it’s notable that MSU seems to be a shining exception to the experiences of other campuses around the nation. Some have reopened for face-to-face classes only to have to revert to exclusively online teaching after hundreds of cases of coronavirus infections are discovered. Those outbreaks have been blamed on students flouting campus mask mandates and bans on large gatherings by throwing big parties with scores, even hundreds, in attendance and ignoring social distancing measures.

MSU administrators are commended for formulating a workable plan and taking steps to enforce it as strictly as possible. They are – so far – getting the results they wanted. But to be sure, the continued success of MSU’s reopening and continuation of in-person classes largely rests with the students.

Though most seem to be complying with mitigation measures, some students can still be found socializing or even studying together without masks or sufficient distancing. As we head into fall and winter it will become increasingly important for students to adhere to all infection-prevention mandates – including wearing masks and practicing social distancing in all public areas, including common areas in dorms.

The fall semester will end at Thanksgiving, followed by an extended winter break and the resumption of classes in January. But that schedule can only be maintained if the rate of infection is kept low. And success in that regard will depend on how well students abide by mitigation measures.

Students nationwide are being deprived of much of the college experience by forced online education, and others have simply dropped out. If MSU students want to continue to be an exception to those unfortunate circumstances, they must redouble their efforts to comply with coronavirus mitigation requirements in the coming weeks.

MSU’s reopening has been successful so far. But the toughest challenges may lie ahead.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.