‘There’s a lot less certainty’: University officials address testing, COVID-19 policies

On Aug. 11, university officials fielded questions about COVID-19 impacts on campus life during a town hall with faculty and staff. As campus reopens, K-State is in the third phase of its reawakening protocol.

With less than a week until the fall semester begins, university officials addressed questions about testing, classroom procedures and other areas of concern related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday morning during a virtual town hall with faculty.

“I think we can say we’re going to have an interesting fall on our campus,” President Richard Myers said. “We always respond in a very cohesive way.”

Myers cited the university’s ability to recover from the devastation of the Hale Library fire in 2018. Following that logic, Kansas State is prepared to handle this current public health crisis.

“We do have a special spirit here at K-State that’s helped us get through things to this point,” Myers said. “Communication is one of the ways we try to make up for the not knowing … and the ambiguous nature of the time [we’re living in].”

Phasing and reopening

As the university reopens, K-State remains in Phase 3 of its reawakening protocol. At this point, gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed with safety precautions.

Provost Charles Taber said the university is going to use a trigger matrix that features gating criteria and the critical indicators used in the decision-making procedures. It will also include thresholds at which changes might need to be made to the plan.

This will be a “public-facing” dashboard, Elliot Young said, vice president for university operations and university risk management officer, said.

“It is also possible to step back in those phases if the situation doesn’t get better or gets worse,” Taber said.

Testing procedures

Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director for Student Health Services, said K-State will not administer mandatory testing when students return to campus. That type of testing does not fall in line with state and local guidance, he said.

“You won’t find anyone in the state health office that thinks [mandatory testing] is is the right thing to do. … It’s just not effective,” Myers said.

Some other universities planning to have classes on campus this semester are engaging in mandatory testing or population sample testing where a certain portion of the student body is tested upon return.

The University of Kansas, for example, is doing full student body testing when classes begin. Some athletes at K-State were also subject to mandatory testing when they returned for practices, Dr. Goerl said, because the high-contact nature of those activities put those students at a higher risk.

One round of mandatory testing, Dr. Goerl said, does not necessarily do the university any good without plans or infrastructure for multiple surveillance tests after that initial test. The only advantage of that type of testing would be knowing the prevalence of the illness in the student body right off the bat.

“There is not a clear one size fits all strategy for testing,” Dr. Goerl said. “It’s a difference in philosophy.”

The K-State testing strategy is still robust, Dr. Goerl said.

Lafene Health Center will instead dedicate its supplies to symptom-based testing. Targeted testing will also occur in groups that have had a high number of cases like classes or dorm floors.

Tests administered to symptomatic students will be billed to insurance. Asymptomatic testing will be handled outside of insurance, Dr. Goerl said.

Testing, though vital in combating a pandemic, is not the only solution, Dr. Goerl said. Other important elements include robust contact tracing operations, social distancing procedures and engaging in good hand hygiene.

Classroom cleaning policies

To accommodate university-wide cleaning procedures, all classes will be expected to end five minutes early. At the end of class, students will be expected to spray down all surfaces they touched with a cleaning solution, Taber said.

Taber said the learning time lost for this added step should be made up using an assignment that focuses on remote learning.

Students coming to class will be asked to arrive on time and wipe the cleaning solution off the surface. This sitting time will be necessary for fully disinfecting high-touch points.

Instructors should be lenient with tardiness the first few days of class, Taber said, as the timing of these passing periods may be difficult.

K-State is also working to hire temporary additions to its custodial staff, Cindy Bontrager, vice president for university operations and chief operating officer, said.

For additional questions about COVID-19’s impact on the fall semester, visit the university landing page for all virus related questions and policies. Changes to campus life and policies will also be announced via K-State Today as they are made.

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.