Medical professionals warn against traveling as many leave Manhattan for Thanksgiving break

As the in-person part of the semester winds to a close, signage around campus reminds passersby to keep up with safety measures. (Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

As Thanksgiving break begins this weekend and in-person classes at Kansas State come to a close, Lafene Health Center is seeing a spike in its COVID-19 positivity rate.

More than 300 students were in quarantine the week of Nov. 9, and 125 positive cases were reported. Since testing began at Lafene in March, the overall percent positive rate at the health center is at 9.11 percent.

Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director of Lafene Health Center, said individuals should ramp up their testing efforts and limit gathering sizes this Thanksgiving. Lafene offers free asymptomatic testing to students, faculty and staff.

“If you’re going home, get tested before you go, and try to keep to yourself after the test and before traveling home,” Goerl wrote in an email. “Consider keeping Thanksgiving to a smaller group this year, perhaps even just immediate family. Talk to your family about being tested themselves.”

The pandemic doesn’t break for holidays, and with Kansas and the Midwest as a whole seeing large spikes in COVID-19 positivity rates recently, many medical experts encourage increased precautions during the heavily-traveled holiday season.

“Unfortunately, Kansas finds itself in a very difficult place right now, the worst of the pandemic to date,” Goerl said. “The virus is so prevalent, it could be encountered just about anywhere.”

In a Twitter poll of 142 respondents, 25.4 percent indicated they planned to stay in Manhattan for Thanksgiving. Another 42.3 percent planned to attend family gatherings, and 12.7 percent indicated they would be traveling over break.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a recommendation on Thursday to postpone travel and stay home for Thanksgiving this year. To limit the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommended celebrating only with those in the household.

Local health officer Julie Gibbs said for the Riley County Health Department, the most concerning factor of the recent surge of cases is the influx of patients in hospitals across the state. Many hospitals are also understaffed, Gibbs said.

Riley County is not currently under a stay-at-home order, and Gibbs said it would be detrimental to the economy to reinstate such an order. However, she said, it’s time to take greater precautions to slow the spread.

“We have to act as a community and buckle down again like back in April,” Gibbs said. “Almost treat it like a stay-at-home order.”

Goerl encouraged students to sacrifice in-person time with family and friends if necessary to protect their health.

“We are lucky that most college-aged people and younger do well, but older adults are at a much higher risk for worse outcomes, even death,” Goerl said. “Think about that before you choose to interact with your grandparents or those with serious medical conditions.”

The status quo of mask-wearing, social distancing, regularly washing hands and staying home when sick has been proven to work and will continue to work in slowing the spread of COVID-19, Goerl said.

In addition to large events like weddings, Gibbs said people should consider the impact of smaller gatherings.

“A common theme with the recent positives is things like dinners and small get-togethers,” Gibbs said. “Refraining from things like that for a while will do us some good.”

Over a year since the first documented case of COVID-19 has passed and many people are ready to go back to life as normal, but Goerl encouraged K-State students and their families to continue prioritizing their health and safety over the temptation to return to normality.

“We are all in this together, and now is not the time to let your guard down,” Goerl said. “There is hope on the horizon, we have two very good vaccine candidates that could be available very soon. For that, I am thankful.”

Goerl said he’s also thankful for those at K-State and in Manhattan who have done the work to stay safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. He wished everyone at K-State a happy Thanksgiving.