With nearly 700 confirmed student cases of the coronavirus at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus, several students and organizations are facing potential discipline after being accused of violating guidelines aimed at slowing the virus's spread.
O'FALLON — With nearly 700 confirmed student cases of the coronavirus at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus, several students and organizations are facing potential discipline after being accused of violating guidelines aimed at slowing the virus's spread.
The university's COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday cited 683 confirmed cases since classes resumed in mid-August, including nearly 500 active cases. Most of the infected students have had mild or no symptoms. Just one student has been hospitalized.
The university is threatening to discipline students for violations such as refusing to wear masks, gathering in large groups and other actions that could hasten the spread of the virus. University spokesman Christian Basi said Wednesday that 330 alleged violations have been referred to the student accountability office. Violators face punishments ranging from a verbal reprimand to suspension or expulsion.
"If we can change the behavior in such a way that it never happens again, we should be in good shape," Basi said. "If we see repeat offenders, we may have to go to harsher penalties."
Basi said many of the students facing discipline were accused of gathering in large groups. Another common offense involved failing to wear a mask in public areas of dorms.
Meanwhile, 10 Greek houses have been temporarily suspended while the university investigates reports of violations, Basi said.
The university, home to around 30,000 students, has worked closely with the city of Columbia and the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, Basi said. Last week, the health department announced new guidelines, including a requirement that bars stop serving drinks at 9 p.m. and close by 10 p.m.
Other campuses across the state also are seeing outbreaks. Missouri State University in Springfield has reported 569 COVID-19 cases, including 383 last week.
Overall, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday reported 1,058 new confirmed cases, for a total of 85,755 since the pandemic began. Eight more deaths were confirmed, bringing the total to 1,538.
Missouri cases have risen sharply since the state reopened for business in mid-June. The Springfield News-Leader reported that the White House Coronavirus Task Force, in a report dated Aug. 16, recommended that Missouri issue a statewide mask mandate. It has not done so.
The News-Leader obtained a copy of the task force report with a public records request. The report said Missouri was in the "red zone" for the number of new cases per capita it recorded during the week prior to the report.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson has encouraged, but not required, masks. At a news conference on Tuesday, Parson said the task force mask guideline was among many that his administration has considered when deciding how to deal with the virus.
In the Kansas City area, a coalition of hospitals and businesses is urging people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Reardon said during a news conference that consumer spending in the region dropped by 35% in the second quarter, and small and minority-owned businesses have been especially hard-hit.
"I would say if you're pro-business, pro-small business, if you want our schools and businesses opening and thriving, if you want our economy to continue to recover, than we all need to take personal responsibility," Reardon said.
AP reporter Margaret Stafford in Liberty, Missouri, contributed to this report.