The week of March 9, 2020, seems to have faded into ancient history - or perhaps I have pushed it there.
For perspective, news stories that week included topics such as a cruise ship docking in Oakland, California, with approximately 3,500 people on board after spending several days circling the West Coast; two members of Congress agreeing to self-quarantine due to coronavirus exposure; and 532 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in 33 states. Additionally, in the U.S., we were also told we might have to stop attending large gatherings to protect ourselves from the virus as it spread across the country. In fact, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Oklahoma was March 7. As of July 19, the disease has advanced to over 25,000 confirmed cases in the state.
It is hard to believe it has only been 19 weeks since COVID-19 came to Oklahoma. Let me quickly say how thankful I am to all those in health care who are taking care of the sick. I am also thankful to the first responders for their unselfish service - the paramedics, firefighters and police officers who respond to calls for help.
Since those early days of dealing with COVID-19, many "un-words" have been used: unprecedented, unbelievable, unfortunate, unimaginable, unforeseen and uncertainty, to mention a few. All of these words are appropriate when tied to the pandemic, and each can stir up its own set of emotions. However, the most frustrating of this group - and perhaps even somewhat scary "un-word" - is "uncertainty."
In March, because we knew so little about the virus and with the uncertainty about where the next outbreak would occur, we were forced to pivot all instruction at Northeastern State University to an alternate electronic delivery method. On April 3, we made the decision to move all summer classes to an online learning environment. At that point, you may recall, we had been told that cases would decline over the summer due to the heat. That is clearly not the case.
When it comes to coping with the coronavirus and planning for the fall semester, the only thing I am certain about is uncertainty. What we think we know about the virus changes very quickly. Factual information available to us in the morning hours has been known to change later that afternoon. For planning purposes, uncertainty is stressful.
On May 1, NSU announced it is our intention to be fully operational in the fall semester. This means in-person classes will take place, and residence halls will be open. We also want our fall sports to return. This continues to be our plan, but with the significant increase in active COVID-19 cases, we are uncertain about what the semester will actually look like. After all, the start of the fall semester is light-years away - four weeks. Four weeks is a long time when you consider the pace of change brought on by the disease and how we collectively and responsibly respond to bending the curve.
Regardless of the uncertainty, we will not waiver on our focus and commitment for the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and the communities where our campuses are located. But we also need our communities to help keep us safe and well. Let us collectively embrace common sense approaches to address the current public health crisis.
Someone once said, "Be OK with not knowing for sure what might come next, but know that whatever it is, you will be OK." I hope and pray we will all be OK very soon.
Steve Turner is the president of Northeastern State University.