Here's How Universities In Kansas Are Reopening Campuses During Coronavirus

Aug 21, 2020

WICHITA, Kansas — Some students at public universities in Kansas have, or will yet get, the coronavirus.

Football players training over the summer have tested positive. A frat house in Manhattan has an outbreak. And some dorm students elsewhere in the state have gone from just-unpacked to quarantined.

Schools spent the summer preparing. Desks have been moved six feet apart. In-person classes are getting cut back. Masks must be worn.

But universities know they can’t keep the virus completely off campus. Instead they hope to slow the spread. Here’s what happens when a Kansas student comes down with COVID-19 symptoms and what information public colleges in the state will — and won’t — share.

Getting tested

For university students, getting tested is as simple as stopping by the school’s health center — just make sure to call ahead first. Centers want time to don their protective equipment, but they expect to get students in same-day.

Before testing, universities screen students for other potential causes of their symptoms. Emporia State University says most of the students it’s seen asking for tests at its wellness center had nothing more than a common illness like strep throat.

“We get so focused on all COVID all the time and, what do you know, strep throat still happens,” said Mary McDaniel Anschutz, the director of Emporia State’s wellness center.

The universities promise a much faster turnaround time than the five-to-seven-days wait time off campus. Kansas State University and Emporia State have antigen tests, which produces results in twenty minutes. But because those are more likely to produce false positives, universities are also partnering with labs for other tests to get results between one and three days.

Depending on which school a student goes to, they have already been tested before they got to campus. Pittsburg State University required athletes and students moving on campus to get tested — as of Tuesday, 15 of 756 tested students were positive for the virus. The University of Kansas requires testing for students living off campus, too.

Other schools did not require testing before classes started because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend entry testing.

Quarantining

Students who test positive are required to quarantine. Some universities have set aside special dorms and floors for infected students to stay on campus. Fort Hays State University has both dorms and hotel rooms set aside. Pittsburg State students living on campus will be quarantined at a spot in the city off campus.

“We’re following up personally every single day with every student who’s isolated or quarantined,” said Pittsburg State spokeswoman Abigail Fern.

And if your roommate gets a positive test, you’ll also be isolated in a separate living area, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Wichita State does not provide separate housing for students who test positive. Instead, the students are expected to stay in their dorms and limit their use of common spaces.

Tracing And transparency

Schools are mostly hands-off when it comes to contact tracing. That responsibility falls on public health departments — assuming they get the infected student’s permission first.

A recently passed Kansas law lets people opt out of contact tracing.

Even if the students agree, their classmates are unlikely to find out someone in their class tested positive. Universities said that’s because sharing a class doesn’t count as close contact, defined as being within six feet for more than 10 minutes. The schools are keeping students seated six feet apart.

Universities are still deciding if they’ll publicly release the number of coronavirus cases on campus and how often. K-State says it’s working on a website but doesn’t know how often it’ll be updated. Fort Hays says it’s compiling daily internal reports on case numbers, but is still figuring out what it will share.

Wichita State does not currently plan on releasing case numbers for its campus. The school says because so many of its students are commuters, the Sedgwick County infection data will reveal more about the campus community than positive cases found on campus.

“We’re smack in the middle of Wichita,” said Camille Childers, the director of Wichita State’s student health services. “The Sedgwick County data is more reflective of us.”

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha or email him at bisaha (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.

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