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Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University

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The day has come. We have spent the past week welcoming our students back to campus, and tomorrow, classes begin at Montana State. And if there is a single message to be conveyed to you as we start the fall semester, it is this: We’re ready.

Months have been spent preparing for this day. In consultation with public health experts at the local, county, state and national levels, we have changed how we operate at almost every level of the university to minimize the risk of the virus.

Face masks are required. Our classrooms have been set up for social distancing. Cleaning protocols have been enhanced, sanitization is frequent and, to assist in this effort, every student, faculty and staff has received a Clean ‘Cat Kit. No guests will be allowed in our residence halls, and students there will have access to isolation and quarantine housing as needed. Our daily class schedules are expanded. Our dining halls have removed self-serve options. We are avoiding large crowds. We reformatted convocation and postponed Bobcat fall sports until spring... The list goes on. And on.

In addition to the changes made to our practices, we have built partnerships with health authorities and with the state of Montana. MSU faculty have helped our local Bozeman Health implement more rapid testing by providing key equipment and knowledge. The state of Montana reached out to us to process large numbers of samples from asymptomatic individuals, providing valuable surveillance testing to monitor the virus. The Montana University System will receive up to $20 million in federal CARES funding for essential COVID-19 initiatives, including the rapid testing of symptomatic students and hiring contact tracing staff at MSU. Importantly, we will continue to work closely with the Gallatin City-County Health Department who will alert us if there is a risk to our campus community.

We have come far from where we were in March, when the pandemic hastened into our lives and swept away so much. MSU adapted quickly, moving to remote instruction and advising our students to stay away and keep themselves healthy. The rapidity of changes this spring was truly startling, and the semester’s end was not the one we hoped to see. Yet even with campus almost empty as May arrived, we innovated and found creative ways to virtually honor our departing graduates and provided them with a keepsake graduation in a box. Even amidst hard times, celebrating life’s milestones is vital to the human spirit.

The five months since have perhaps been the busiest this campus has ever seen. The amount of work put into preparing for tomorrow has been staggering. I do not have words to express the depth of my gratitude to so many for making this possible: the dedicated staff members who continued the necessary work on campus during the governor’s stay-at-home order and beyond; our faculty who have adapted, innovated and worked so hard on the plans for fall classes; our students, who are the beating heart of the university; and our alumni and members of our community, who have supported MSU throughout.

Thanks to all of you, we’re ready.

There will be risk, at MSU and everywhere else, this fall. While the risk from the coronavirus will not be zero, MSU has taken precautions to minimize it, keeping the safety of our students, faculty and staff as our top concern.

Therefore, in saying that we are ready, it means more than relying upon the plans already drafted. It means that we are also ready for the uncertainties that this new season will bring, ready to adapt, ready to respond, ready to care for each other, and ready to do the right thing, each and every time.

I implore each of you to mind the public health advice you’ve heard so often. Wear face masks, wash your hands, know the symptoms and stay home if you’re sick. Now more than ever we must take individual responsibility for our collective good.

I know — and I am proud — that the Bobcats of near and far are ready to meet this challenge together. Go ‘Cats!

Waded Cruzado is the president of Montana State University.

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