About 55 percent of students say they “definitely will” participate in contact tracing as needed. An additional 30 percent indicated that they “probably will,” according to data released on Thursday.
Before the semester started, the Office of Student Life sent a survey to Kansas State students that focused on their willingness to participate in COVID-19 prevention procedures and curb behaviors known to spread the virus in on and off-campus situations.
In all, 1,366 students participated in the survey, about 98 percent of whom attend classes at the Manhattan campus. Additionally, nearly 70 percent were students who reported living off-campus.
A full list of that data can be found on the campus COVID-19 dashboard.
Thomas Lane, vice president for student life and dean of students, said via email the survey and its data shows the university where there is more work to be done.
“Our plans to reopen our campuses were built on our belief that K-Staters share a unique concern for each other. This means we must all do what it takes to protect our fellow Wildcats. If 90% of us follow the rules and 10% do not, we will not be successful in our efforts,” K-State’s administrators wrote in a letter to the student body on Tuesday.
Jeff Morris, vice president for communications and marketing, said K-State anticipated some of the responses it received in the survey, including responses from students that suggested they “definitely will” or “possibly will” attend parties off-campus in apartments, houses or fraternities.
“It’s not just in class, it’s not just on campus, you’ve really got to pay attention to what you’re doing, and it’s hard,” Morris said. “They want to do what they’ve [always] done. They want to go out and be together. That’s human nature, we totally understand that, but we also have to understand that this is a unique time in our history, and if we don’t change how we interact with each other, at least in the short term, it can really affect us in the long term.”
Earlier this week, 14 members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak. Following a shift in student organization policies at K-State finalized in 2017, the university doesn’t have direct authority over independent student organizations like Greek organizations.
That doesn’t mean K-State isn’t working with sororities and fraternities to instill prevention behaviors in their organizations, Morris said.
“We’re continuing to work with our folks at [the Interfraternity Council] and [the Panhellenic Council], and we’re going to meet with those groups and their leadership,’” Morris said. “The behaviors can affect a lot of other people, so we’ve really got to get people to sort of buy into that and hope that they would. We also need peer pressure. We need the other students to step up and help us and say, ‘Hey, you know what, this experience is important to me, and I want to continue it.’”
One thing Lane said is important for students to know is that their behavior off-campus is just as important in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
“Wearing a face covering while on campus is a requirement, and it is also a requirement in the City of Manhattan, so I am hopeful all campus community members and visitors will continue to abide by this requirement,” Lane said.
Morris also said the university learned about dealing with outbreaks when K-State Athletics became the source of a cluster just a few days into voluntary football practices in June.
“I think it was a very good lesson in how contagious it is and how you really have to pay attention because it can just very quickly spread within a group of people that are close together,” Morris said. “This stuff can really just sneak in on all of us.”
On a national scale, universities across the United States are reverting to distance learning just days into the semester following local case surges and unsustainable increases in positivity rates. That could happen here, Morris said, if students and the community don’t make the right choices.
“We need to continue to educate students in understanding the high-risk choices they make, like attending large gatherings, can impact not only themselves, but the people they care about,” Lane said.
Based on data from the previous week, Riley County’s positivity rate is about 3.5 percent, and local health officer Julie Gibbs said she hopes it can stay low, even as students return to the Manhattan area for classes. New cases did go up almost immediately after classes started, something Morris said was expected.
“We all have to look out for each other,” Morris said. “It doesn’t take very many people for this thing to get out of control, and then it can affect the entire community. We’re hopeful this isn’t going to happen here.”
Lane said the university plans to continue to educate the student body through the Every Wildcat A Wellcat (EWAW) campaign and Lafene health promotions.