Campus COVID-19 positivity rate falls below 10 percent

(Infographic by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

For the first time in over a month, the campus positivity rate has fallen below 10 percent. In the week of Sept. 14, Kansas State documented 72 positive cases of COVID-19 of the 832 tests administered — yielding a total positivity rate of 8.65 percent.

In the same period, the overall positivity rate in Riley County— though still higher — also fell below 15 percent. Less than a month ago, the local percent of positivity in the whole testing body was around 30 percent. For the week of Sept. 14, it was just over 13 percent.

When classes first began on campus, new case counts climbed and the positivity rate skyrocketed — something to be expected when there’s a large population influx all at once, Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director at Lafene Health Center, said previously. But now, the tides are changing.

“The reasons behind [the decline in cases] are numerous,” he said.

Expansion of surveillance testing helped lower the positivity rate, but, Goerl said, it also falls in line with typical viral spread.

“When the virus gets into a community, it tends to escalate fast — especially in a situation where there’s so much close connection amongst individuals like a collegiate population,” Goerl said. “The virus, essentially hits a saturation point where its ability to spread slows dramatically, simply due to the number of people that got infected.”

K-State’s COVID-19 matrix — which takes into account several variables to determine the viability of classroom mobility — is also closely concerned with the situation in the county, Goerl said. Local health officer Julie Gibbs said the Riley County Health Department is tasked with managing cases of students who live off campus while Lafene manages cases of COVID-19 in students.

“It truly takes a village to keep everyone healthy,” Gibbs said about community cooperation with health guidelines.

However, Goerl said, a 10 percent positivity rate doesn’t indicate that the virus is under control on campus.

“I wouldn’t call us out of the weeds just yet, but the fact that we’re under 10 percent positivity rate is extremely encouraging,” Goerl said. “That definitely shows us that we’re doing the right thing.”

Goerl said he’ll feel more comfortable when the positivity rate declines to 5 percent because that specific threshold shows “the virus is under extremely good control.”

As the severity of the situation in the county and on campus continues to relax, however, Goerl said there’s concern people could fall into a false sense of security. They might get lax about prevention behaviors, like social distancing and wearing face coverings, inciting a new spike in cases.

“I’m choosing to remain cautiously optimistic at this point,” Goerl said. “I’m hoping that everybody continues to take this seriously so that we don’t have to see a second surge. I think if we can continue doing what we’re doing right now, we’re going to be in a pretty good place.”

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.