Music department takes precautions after positive COVID-19 case

Nick Fuson, junior from Meade County, completes his classes virtually temporarily due to the pandemic. (Jill Rush/The News)

Staff Report

After a music student tested positive for COVID-19, the department of music decided to suspend in-person activities to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

Members of Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band Blue, Symphonic Band Gold and Racer Band received an email on Oct. 8 from Director of University Bands Trae Blanco and Associate Director of Bands Brent Johnson after a student in the music department contracted the virus at a personal family event off-campus during a weekend trip home.

“With one member of our ensembles contracting COVID-19 off campus… in order to protect the exposure of any member to the virus, effective October 8, 2020, all rehearsals and performances for Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band Blue, Symphonic Band Gold and Racer Band will be suspended and/or held virtually until further notice,” according to the email.

Lucia Unrau, chair of the department of music and professor of music, said Racer Band and the department of music was not suspended by the University because they violated the Racer Safe and Healthy Guidelines. Unrau said the department decided to move from traditional instruction with social distancing and hybrid model to an online model to keep students, faculty and staff safe.

Unrau said the department of music developed a restart plan in July in the event someone in the department contracted the virus. In addition to the plan for the department as a whole, Unrau asked ensemble directors to create additional plans for traditional instruction, traditional instruction with social distancing, hybrid model and online only.

To ensure students are still receiving a quality education in the music department, Unrau said faculty members in the music department have completed extensive research on how to do so.

“The department of music have spent hundreds of hours attending webinars and reading studies conducted by professional music organizations, along with scientists, all over the world to understand the impact of COVID-19 in various musical situations,” Unrau said. “We have instituted every precaution recommended—masks, distancing, bell covers, etc.”

Before suspending in-person practices for Racer Band, Unrau said Racer Band has always practiced social distancing, worn masks and followed all safety protocols. Members were only permitted to remove their masks when playing a wind instrument.

Nick Fuson, a junior music student from Meade County, Kentucky, said his studies have been affected.

“Because there is a risk that we do not know how many students were exposed, other professors have taken action as well,” Fuson said. “I have had one professor move our classes to Zoom for at least one week, information on that pending. Also, despite not being required, we have moved trumpet studio to Zoom until further notice as well. Other professors have been very understanding of students who may feel unsafe in class right now and would like to Zoom instead.”

Fuson said he feels the University has been very untrustworthy throughout the pandemic.

“I understand that they are trying to manage public opinion, student welfare and of course money, but there are unexplainable decisions that in my view are insidious at best,” Fuson said. “For one, the original decision to not reveal case numbers is nothing more than deceitful.”

Fuson’s main concern with how the University has handled COVID-19 is with the lack of mandatory testing.

“We love to tout our low case numbers as a sign for how great the University community is doing, but when other universities are requiring their students be tested how can we say we are better than those institutions,” Fuson said. “We would, without a doubt, see a huge increase in case numbers if they were actually recorded properly. Taking the Trump approach that less testing equals less cases in not a method that can be taken seriously and is obviously dangerous.”

While Fuson is not happy with the University as a whole, he said he is very proud of the department of music.

“I am most proud of the swift action taken throughout the department when moments such as these do happen,” Fuson said. “There is no wasted time in making tough calls like this one.”

Fuson said he thinks the department of music has comparatively treated the situation better than others.

“Our professors have been very understanding of difficulties and also very no-nonsense when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions,” Fuson said. “I have heard reports of other departments being very lazy about the pandemic and certain professors even downplaying the pandemic. The music department has done a great job in taking this matter very seriously. We have changed almost everything we do, nothing looks the same as it did a year ago, and that is for the best.”

Unrau said the department will reassess the current situation periodically to determine if and when music students can move back to traditional instruction with social distancing and hybrid courses.

Fuson said his opinion on returning back to traditional instruction with social distancing and hybrid courses will depend on how the return is handled.

“At this moment, we do not know if there will be a return to normal,” Fuson said. “If we go back without hesitation or confidence, I will be worried. But, if the department considers all possible outcomes and makes great strides in ensuring our safety upon return, I will be confident in their decision.”

The Racer Band’s final class project which was scheduled for Oct. 10 was cancelled because of the transition of in-person activities to an online setting.

“They are hoping to present this project in a private setting once/if they are able to resume in-person work,” Unrau said. “This is not a public event.”

Unrau said their main priority is the health, safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

“The department of music is a close-knit group and we care deeply about each other,” Unrau said. “We won’t do anything to jeopardize that.”