Only time will tell if Fake Patty’s Day gatherings reignite COVID-19 spread, campus officials say

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Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, happenings in Aggieville for Fake Patty's Day were relatively muted compared to years past, but that didn't stop people from hosting house parties and other mass-gatherings that could cause a problem for infection rates in the community, campus officials warn. (Archive Photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Though events in Aggieville for Fake Patty’s Day were relatively tamped down this year, that didn’t stop Kansas State students and community members from enjoying the partying holiday at large — and apparently maskless — house parties.

Those mass-gatherings could become a catalyst for more rapid COVID-19 spread in the community and higher testing rates, Dr. Kyle Goerl, medical director at Lafene Health Center, said.

“Oh, it’s bad,” Goerl said. “I can’t think of a worse thing that people could go and do right now.”

‘WE’RE GOING TO HAVE TO PAY FOR IT’

This isn’t the first time off-campus activities have affected on-campus COVID-19 numbers. In August, off-campus parties and trips to bars are what likely caused the major climb in the positivity rate at the time. Within a week or so of the fall semester starting, the positivity rate on campus surpassed 20 percent.

In the meantime, it’s a waiting game, President Richard Myers said, to see if COVID-19 numbers locally change trajectory. He said K-State and the greater Manhattan area should expect to get a clearer picture of the aftermath from Fake Patty’s Day in about a week.

“I do think some of that behavior is going to come back [around], and we’re going to have to pay for it,” Myers said. “We will probably start to see a surge in cases, and we can probably trace those back to those kind of activities.”

Last week, Duke University instituted a temporary shelter-in-place order after off-campus activities caused on-campus cases to spike and thousands of people entered a quarantine period. Goerl said he doesn’t expect a similar action to be necessary for K-State. Myers agreed.

“My guess is we won’t have to do that, but we have to be ready to do that,” Myers said. “We go back to our first principle: Keep both faculty and students as safe as we possibly can.”

Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said Fake Patty’s Day gatherings could cause problems, but some of the major fallout might be avoided given the relatively low level of spread currently present in the community. Last week, K-State saw a positivity rate below one percent and Riley County as a whole reports just 56 active cases.

“There will be less people coming and going that have already acquired it probably than if we were having this conversation two months ago,” Norman said.

If there is an uptick, Myers said he doesn’t expect it to be as drastic as the one Riley County experienced when students returned to campus in the fall and started engaging in similar behavior. Since many K-State students and community members have already had COVID-19, there is a smaller pool of people to potentially infect.

That being said, most younger people in Kansas have not received a vaccine yet as ongoing efforts have primarily targeted people who are older or work in critical infrastructure industries.

“These kind of gatherings are by definition high-risk for super spreader events,” Norman says. “I think it’s irresponsible.”

Now, add in the fact that some people travel to town just for the event and that further complicates matters — people who potentially got infected with COVID-19 at a party will now take that back to wherever they came from and give it to others.

I WENT TO A FAKE PATTY’S DAY PARTY, NOW WHAT?

If students attended a Fake Patty’s Day event of any kind, Goerl encourages them to come get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible, especially if they start to experience symptoms.

“I’d rather folks err on the side of caution,” Goerl said. “You’re not going to be met with judgment here or anything like that — we just want to make sure people who have symptoms are getting seen.”

Additionally, if you get contacted by a contact tracer or do test positive, it’s also imperative to be honest with them.

“We’d rather know than not so we can try to start figuring things out and get a get a handle on this,” Goerl says.

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My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the 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.