Fall semester plan unchanged by recent spike in cases, football outbreak, officials say

Anderson Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus and houses the offices of the vice president of student life and other administrators. (File photo by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

As local cases of COVID-19 rise daily and outbreaks are pinpointed in Riley County, Kansas State still plans to hold some in-person classes starting on Aug. 17, vice president of student life and dean of students Thomas Lane said.

“We’re writing a playbook in real time right now. So, you know, everything that we decide, we don’t necessarily have perfect data to make decisions on,” Lafene Health Center medical director Dr. Kyle Goerl said. “This isn’t a perfectly written playbook and changes … are likely down the line. We’re all going to have to be a little bit flexible through this school year in order to make it work as best we can, because we don’t have all the answers right now, and if anybody tells you they do, that’s a bold-faced lie.”

On June 15, voluntary football workouts began at K-State, but those were suspended after 14 student athletes tested positive for COVID-19 less than one week later.

Additionally, three of the five known outbreaks in the county declared by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are associated with Aggieville, a business district regularly frequented by students.

“We want students to stay healthy and stay safe during this period of time because it’s an unknown and it seems risky — maybe not to a lot of college students, it doesn’t, but the facts prove that it’s risky,” Jim Parker, director of student health services and Counseling Services, said.

When cases in Riley County started spiking again, local health officer Julie Gibbs said she thinks “we let our guard down” through the reopening process. Under her authority, the health department released a new “restrictive activities” order that took effect last week as a way to try to slow the spread.

The local and statewide spikes in cases “accentuates” the point the university is trying to get across to students, Lane said.

“I think it reinforces what we’ve been saying in stressing that it’s really important that we wear masks, that we socially distance and that we wash our hands,” Lane said. “If we do those three things we should be able to help mitigate COVID-19 in a very effective way.”

As cases of COVID-19 skyrocket, the age of positivity goes down. Earlier this week, Andrew Adams, emergency preparedness coordinator for public health in Riley County, said the majority of new cases continue to be in the 18 to 24 age range — college-aged individuals.

“For this to be successful, it has to be a community and university partnership,” Lane said. “The virus doesn’t care whether you’re on campus, or whether you’re in the community. We want to encourage those behaviors that that I’ve been talking about where we’re caring for ourselves, we’re caring for our fellow Wildcats, we’re caring for K-State and the larger community.”

When students start to return to campus for fall classes, Lane said the university will push the “Every Wildcat a Wellcat” wellness campaign. The campaign will encourage mask-wearing and other measures known to prevent virus spread. Students will also be asked to sign a pledge that acknowledges their commitment to social distancing both on and off campus.

There will be enforcement mechanisms, Lane said, as there will be amendments to the policy handbook to include COVID-19 prevention measures. As such, students who fail to follow those guidelines will be subject to the same review process as they would if they violated other policies. Enforcement will “no doubt” be difficult, Lane said.

“Here’s another opportunity I think, and I can’t really think of a better one, to help bring alive that notion of K-State family where we’ve got each other’s back,” Lane said.

More information about the plan for the fall semester can be found on the K-State COVID-19 response webpage.

Do you have questions or concerns you want addressed about the fall reopening plan? Email collegian@kstatecollegian.com.

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.