EDITORIAL: Reopening campus is a mistake students, faculty will pay for

Anderson Hall, pictured here in November of 2019, is the administration building of Kansas State. It is home to the Office of the President, the Office of Student Life and other administrative offices. The building is one of the oldest on campus as one of the three original buildings. (File Photo by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

In less than a month, Kansas State plans to welcome students back to campus for a semester with at least some in-person classes. This is certainly a mistake.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised colleges and universities that the safest option, by far, for the fall would be to continue online-only instruction.

Since then, the COVID-19 situation in the United States and locally has only gotten worse. Within a matter of weeks, the number of known cases in Riley County had more than tripled and 18 to 24-year-olds began making up an ever-increasing slice of the new case numbers.

The situation at K-State Athletics should be a warning. Voluntary football workouts lasted less than a week before they were shut down because of the sheer volume of positive tests being returned. In the end, 29 of 190 people across five sports tested positive — yielding an alarming 15 percent positivity rate.

Not only did Athletics resume workouts for other sports and restart football workouts before the Riley County Health Department had declared the outbreak finished, K-State has made no indication that the findings from this incident have changed any plans going into the fall semester.

It is imperative that K-State learn from the K-State Athletics outbreak and apply this knowledge to its fall semester plan.

What would a 15 percent positivity rate mean for a student body as large as K-State’s as thousands of students flock back to Manhattan and the surrounding area for in-person classes that shouldn’t be happening? About 3,000 positive cases.

And what about faculty, staff and other university employees? That’s potentially another 1,000 positive cases.

Students and faculty will be the ones paying for the university’s premature plans to reopen not only with their money, but especially with their health and their lives. Young people are less likely to face bad outcomes from this novel coronavirus, but nobody knows for sure what the long term effects of COVID-19 are. Any cases that result from the return to campus and the deaths that follow will have been entirely preventable.

K-State officials say the top priority of the university is and always has been the health and safety of its students and the community. We hope their actions reflect those words, because right now, K-State is racing towards a crisis that will be of its own making.

The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the Collegian editorial board. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.