‘We let our guard down’: As COVID-19 case numbers climb, health department plans to issue new directive

(Illustration by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

As local COVID-19 cases skyrocket, the Riley County Health Department mulls the details of a new local health order expected to be released the next 24 hours — reverting to a more restrictive phase is on the table, local health officer Julie Gibbs said.

A week ago, Riley County had 80 positive cases of COVID-19. By Monday afternoon, the total number of positive cases ballooned to 132 — an increase of more than 50 cases. This is the largest increase of positive cases documented since the start of the pandemic.

Gibbs said the positive case rate jumped to 14 percent. Last week, it was two percent.

“Things have taken a drastic turn,” Gibbs said. “We know more needs to be done.”

As the reopening process progressed, Gibbs said the health department expected to see a surge, but not to this degree.

“We were a little shocked by the amount we’ve seen come in … all at once,” Gibbs said.

About a month ago, Riley County boasted a low caseload and very few serious infections. Now, the county has seen three deaths, a rapid increase in hospitalizations, a growing need of ventilators and an outbreak in an extended care facility.

(Infographic by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)
(Infographic by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

About 44 percent of positive cases have been reported in individuals aged 18 to 24 in the area. More than 90 percent of the most recent cases fall in that age range.

Some experts have expressed concern over individuals in this age group as they are unlikely to have serious symptoms, but could infect those around them who could develop fatal complications.

Emergency preparedness coordinator Andrew Adams is leading the contact tracing effort in the county. He said many of the new cases are associated with people who recently frequented businesses like bars and restaurants.

“There are more places where they could have been exposed or be exposing others,” Adams said.

A number of local businesses have opted to close as employees and patrons test positive.

“We let our guard down,” Gibbs said.

Businesses with questions about best practices should call the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce at 785-776-8829 or email info@manhattan.org. Additional resources for reopening local businesses are available at regionreimagined.org.

Individuals with symptoms are encouraged to call the screening line at 785-323-6400. The screening line is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through the end of June. People with non-emergent questions about COVID-19 in Riley County should send an email to rileycountycovid19@gmail.com.

Due to the changing situation related to the pandemic, the health department will start hosting afternoon briefings at 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

To be tested in Riley County, individuals must present at least two symptoms of COVID-19. The complete list of known symptoms is available on the health department website.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.