August 14, 2020 10:36:08 AM
This weekend thousands of Mississippi State students will arrive on campus with classes set to begin Monday.
Until this year, the arrival of the students has been something the city of Starkville greets with great enthusiasm, even with the additional strain on city services and whatever inconveniences are typically associated when a town almost doubles its population overnight.
Although much attention is paid to the economic impact of MSU sports, especially football weekends, the daily presence of 20,000-plus students drives the local economy to a far greater degree than all of the Bulldog sporting events put together.
This year, however, the arrival of students must bring with it a sense of trepidation that greatly tempers the usual enthusiasm.
The arrival of students dramatically increases the number of people in Starkville who are most inclined to contract the COVID-19 virus.
According to the latest data from the state health department, more than a third of those who have contracted the virus in Oktibbeha County (311 of 1,145) are in the 18-29 age group. In fact, the percentage of virus cases in that age group is 60 percent higher than the group with the second highest percentage of cases (30-39).
Mind you, these statistics represent Oktibbeha County BEFORE the first MSU student has stepped foot on campus.
Mississippi State is well aware of the potential of a serious outbreak as students return. The university has secured two Starkville hotels to serve as quarantine centers and has kicked off a publicity campaign called Cowbell Well, which encourages students to observe guidelines, both on and off campus.
Aside from appealing to students to "do their part," the Cowbell Well campaign makes no specific mention of the most potentially devastating student behavior, however.
One immutable fact is that 18-22 year olds tend to congregate in large social settings, especially Thursday through Saturday evenings. During these times good judgment often quickly yields to good times.
Because people in this age group are generally asymptomatic, the consequences of deviating from the accepted safety practices are easy to minimize or ignore.
Yet while the risk to the students may be mild, the potential risk for the wider Starkville population among those more vulnerable to serious complications multiplies as asymptomatic college kids spill out into the city, its shops, restaurants, bars, et al.
It's almost certain that the presence of thousands of students will negatively impact the health of the city of Starkville.
The only real question is a matter of scale.
That relies, to a great degree, on what these young, healthy young people do to relieve the stress of a long week of classes.
Forgive our skepticism, but based on what we know of human nature, that is a frightening prospect.
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