When Kansas State University made the decision to move to in-person and hybrid teaching beginning Aug. 17, the state of Kansas was making progress in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Since that time, the situation in our state has been reversed, with a significant increase in cases. Just last week, the city of Chicago added Kansas to the list of states from which travelers will require quarantine.
As we’ve stated all along, the ability to reopen our campuses depends on being able to preserve the health and safety on our university property and in our host communities. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve paid close attention to what the medical experts and our epidemiologists tell us, including many of our own excellent scientists at K-State. What they tell us right now is that trends are in the wrong direction.
As we re-evaluate our decisions in light of the most recent data, the compelling question becomes, “Can we bring 20,000 students, faculty and staff to campus, knowing cases are sure to increase?” The answer depends on many factors, and we are preparing for many contingencies. If we can collectively mitigate the spread of the virus, the campus can reopen and the economic rebound will continue for the communities we serve. However, the university cannot do this alone. Our community partners must use the same playbook.
The science is clear that wearing face coverings, hand hygiene and enforcing physical distancing can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. But these efforts are only as strong as the weakest link. It takes just one exception to cause a superspreader event, in which case we would probably have to stop in-person classes and go to distance learning.
At this time, K-State is considering several options, including opening on Aug. 17 as planned, delaying the on-campus opening with an online start, or moving completely online for the fall semester. Now is the time for community policymakers to get behind a plan that allows the whole community to move forward. This means consistent rules with regard to the use of face coverings and physical distancing, and consistent enforcement of those rules across our communities.
For our Manhattan campus, we are asking the city of Manhattan and Riley County to establish policies requiring the use of face coverings through the end of the fall semester. In addition, close attention must be paid to how, when and where people gather. This virus does not stop at the campus borders, so we need consistent measures throughout the entire community for this to work.
Historic challenges take historic measures, and we have not faced a pandemic of this scale since 1918 when many of these same issues surfaced. We rallied together then, let’s do it now. We all take pride in knowing that our university and communities are nationally respected for our town-gown relationships. Let’s show America that we deserve that respect.
Richard B. Myers
President, Kansas State University