BY CORIE LYNN
Students returned to Fort Hays State University to find a changed campus.
Many courses are presented online, and masks are required for those that meet in person. Seating is now limited in public areas, and fall sports have been postponed. Student organizations now work to keep their events socially distanced or completely virtual.
FHSU took these measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and to avoid sending students home as they did the previous spring semester.
Despite FHSU’s own precautions, the first week of class saw a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Hays and across Ellis county. The university’s response has been to continue to monitor the situation and provide resources to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Cases are reported in quite a number of ways,” said Scott Cason, chief communications officer. “We receive testing and positive results data weekly from CRL, our testing lab partner. This data does not include any personal information-only aggregate data. We also receive data (not-person specific) from the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment (KDHE) via the Ellis County Health Department.”
According to Cason, the Student Health Center continues to track those who test positive through on-campus testing and self-report exposures.
Numbers from all sources are now available on the university’s COVID-19 data dashboard. The webpage, in addition to updating data on a weekly basis, provides visitors to links for local data and resources.
Besides reporting the data, the university is analyzing it to consider how to proceed with the semester through its Critical Incident Policy Group.
Cason explained that the CIPG meets about four times a week to discuss how the campus is adapting to changes and mitigation measures are working.
“This group reviews and approves workspace, academic, athletic, student life programming and event plans to make sure health and safety precautions are built into everything we do on campus,” he said.
In a question and answer session with the Student Government Association last Thursday, FHSU Provost Dr. Jill Arensdorf shared one new measure the university is taking to ensure student health and academic needs.
“I was hearing from faculty, actually,” Arensdorf said, “that students were worried about finding space for them to sit and listen to a Zoom lecture between maybe two hybrid courses that they had on campus.”
The answer is to allow students to use Gross Memorial Coliseum as a seating space as it has wi-fi connections and enough seating to allow students to socially distance. Athletics simply requests that if students arrive while practices are taking place, that they utilize the upper level seating.
To address the cases that resulted from students visiting bars the first week of classes, the university has reached out to both business owners and public health officials.
“Our Student Health Center Director, Lynn Adams, is working with Jason Kennedy from the Ellis County Health Department [to work] with local bars on potential changes that can help mitigate the spread of the virus in these establishments,” Cason said.
With these measures already in place, Cason explained that the university is working to further expand quarantine and isolation capacities and will continue their weekly communications to students regarding COVID-19 in the FHSU community.
“We believe our policies and procedures are working on campus, but under our Phased Plan, we can pivot as necessary and make sure we can continue to deliver a quality student experience no matter what turn the pandemic takes,” Cason said.