As Calloway County enters the red zone and cases continue to rise on campus, in the Murray community and across the state, local medical providers are reminding students that tests are available and affordable.
According to Chief Medical Officer Bob Hughes, Calloway County has had a total of 697 cases, with 593 recovered, 91 isolated at home, three hospitalizations and ten deaths. Included in the Calloway County total are the 201 Murray State related cases. Since Aug. 1, 528 new cases have been reported in Calloway County. Murray State accounts for 233 of those, which is approximately 33 percent.
Nicholas O’Dell, chief medical officer of Murray-Calloway County Hospital, said he has heard several students were avoiding being tested because of concerns regarding costs or access.
MCCH is also still offering drive-thru testing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m, which does not require an office visit. Testing is also available at Murray State Health Services, which is operated by Primary Care Medical Center. The fees vary depending upon where a student is tested.
While the hospital charges an administrative fee for test collection, the laboratory test itself, which is usually a $100 charge, is free. The administrative fee is $23 with insurance and is 100 percent covered by a majority of insurance carriers. O’Dell said this fee helps offset the expenses of personal protective equipment and staffing the drive-thru testing operation.
MCCH is also enrolled in a special program offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If students or other members of the community who do not have insurance get tested at MCCH or other facilities enrolled in this program, the fees will be covered by the federal government.
Shawn Tourney, executive director of marketing and communication, said Murray State Health Services, Primary Care and Village MD works with every student who needs to be seen or requests a visit.
“The first priority for testing is given to individuals who are at high-risk of exposure to COVID-19 or are displaying symptoms of COVID-19,” Touney said. “Like all health facilities in the community, MSU Health Services, Primary Care and Village MD first asks for and accepts insurance; however, if an individual cannot pay for a COVID-19 test, the University will cover these costs in full.”
Touney also said students are not charged an administrative fee by Murray State when they are tested for COVID-19 through Health Services.
“At MSU, we don’t charge but let the testing company bill their insurance for which there is to be no co-pay, balance billing or student liability,” Touney said.
Prior to testing, Tourney said Health Services will conduct a tele-visit to obtain key medical information about the student’s health, pre and post planning based upon the results of the COVID-19 testing for treatment and possible quarantine purposes and the collection of data the University is required to report.
Touney said regardless of where a student chooses to be tested, it is important that the University and Health Services receive the results in a timely manner.
Some are concerned the increase might have to do with the students traveling on the weekends, specifically to bars in Tennessee as the state lacks some of the restrictions that Gov. Andy Beshear has implemented in Kentucky.
Kentucky’s mask mandate was scheduled to expire on Wednesday, Oct. 7. However, during a media briefing on Tuesday, Oct. 6, Beshear extended the mandate for another 30 days. According to the official website for Tennessee’s government, facial coverings are not mandated.
“Facial coverings are strongly encouraged for all persons (employee and guest) in all public places where close proximity to others is anticipated,” according to the website. “Businesses and organizations may determine to require the use of face coverings by those on premise.”
While Kentucky bars were allowed to reopen in August, Beshear established a curfew and a 50 percent capacity limitation to deter people from staying late and potentially spreading COVID-19. Bars are allowed to have last call at 11 p.m. and close at midnight. Meanwhile, Tennessee bars have no set curfews or capacity restrictions.
Under the restaurant guidelines section of the website, restaurants are recommended to take venue capacities and physical characteristics into consideration to socially distance, but they are not required to do so.
Touney said that the university is aware that students are traveling into Tennessee to visit bars where there aren’t as strict COVID-19 guidelines. He said that students have to make the best decisions possible in order to ensure safety on campus and in the community.
“Again, this very much boils down to [students] making good decisions, for our campus and broader community.”
During Beshear’s media briefing on Monday, Oct. 5, Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack interpreted graphs and data of the increase of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky and across the country compared to positive rates internationally.
“Other democracies have figured this out,” Stack said. “Tragically, the United States of America has not. Our nation for its many wonderful attributes, unfortunately, is a spectacular failure in this regard. Our results for this disease management are really embarrassing frankly and we should be humiliated as a country that we haven’t been able to come together better to get this done well.”
Stack used specific examples of other countries to show how the rate of COVID-19 in the United States compares.
“We have 22,000 cases per million people in the United States,” Stack said. “You go down to Canada and Germany… they’re at 4,000 [cases per million people]. We are five and a half times worse on a population adjusted metric for the number of cases we have in the United States of America… We gotta get our act together, folks, as a country. This is not just ‘Team Kentucky,’ but obviously ‘Team Kentucky’ plays a role because now we’re a leading contributor to our new cases.”
Stack also discussed the rates of death because of COVID-19 in the United States compared to Canada, Germany and New Zealand.
“The United States here is number one, and we are number one in an absolutely saddening and tragic way,” Stack said. “We are three and half times as high in terms of death per million people as Canada, six and a half times as high as Germany and New Zealand apparently doesn’t have deaths, for all intents and purposes, we’re 650 times worse than New Zealand.”
Students are encouraged to review and continue adhering to the Racer Restart Plan and Racer Safe and Healthy Guidelines to ensure classes can continue in person until Nov. 20. The guidelines can be reviewed at murraystate.edu/racerrestart/.
“Making good choices is paramount,” Touney said.
Students who do not follow the guidelines run the risk of disciplinary actions being taken, up to and including suspension.
“Simply put, we need everyone to do their part in making good decisions to successfully complete the fall semester on November 20,” Touney said.