Riley County plans to loosen some of its local COVID-19 restrictions as rates of community spread and hospitalizations continue to decline, but Kansas State won’t be following suit — at least not for the time being.
Staying in Phase 3
K-State plans to stay in its third phase of the Reawakening Framework — which requires on-campus masking, limits gathering sizes to 50, dictates class modalities and other rules — for the remainder of the semester and through the summer months.
That’s not because K-State’s rate of spread is high — the current on-campus positivity rate is below two percent and dropping. Rather, it’s because of progression limitations built into the framework.
For the university to move into the phase-out period, therapeutic treatments and vaccines need to be widely accessible.
“The main one is the vaccine — we’re still not at a place where we just have widespread vaccine availability,” Dr. Kyle Goerl, Lafene Health Center’s medical director, said.
Phase-out on the horizon
A return to some sense of normalcy could be on the near horizon, however, Goerl said. Phase 3 will likely need to continue through the summer instruction period, but he sees no reason why phase-out couldn’t safely start in time for the school year to begin in the fall.
Some key thresholds required for a return to business as usual are already met, Goerl said, specifically, the aspect of decreased local spread and less pressure on the local health system.
That means a reduction in campus COVID-19 limitations could be a matter of months away. In a K-State Today news release on Wednesday morning, President Richard Myers said progression into phase-out could begin as soon as Aug. 1.
“We have long anticipated the day when the K-State family could gather again in person. As the pandemic continues to improve, we are planning a fall semester that will be more normal than our 2020-2021 academic year,” Myers said.
Not out of the woods yet
This can feel like a “breath of fresh air,” Goerl said, but that doesn’t mean we should act like the crisis is over. For example, cases of newer, more transmissible variants popping up in Kansas and across the U.S. pose a lingering threat.
In the meantime, following disease mitigation rules and getting a vaccine when the time comes will be vital to ensuring the plans to have more normal campus operations by the fall semester can come to fruition, Myers said.