BY PRESTON BURROWS
With the third week of classes at Fort Hays State University starting, COVID-19 cases have taken off from a once steady pace to the fast-moving uptick seen at the beginning of the pandemic.
The Ellis County Health Department shared information that the recent spread of COVID-19 in Ellis County might be linked to weekend house parties and close contact in bars.
Students at FHSU have noticed the rise in cases, but that is not stopping some individuals from going out — despite pleas from the county health department and FHSU to follow proper safety standards. House parties on the streets near campus have always been a tradition for college students. However, this tradition includes a new twist: a global pandemic.
While the university had many welcome activities and weekend plans, so did other students including an FHSU sophomore who wished to remain anonymous as her house has hosted two parties and one gathering dating back three weeks ago.
If the events did not take place at this student’s specific house, she believes students would find other parties by house-hopping — a term used for party-goers who switch from house to house.
“These parties are put on by pure influence,” the student said. “We want to have fun and try to have a small get-together, and people keep on inviting other people until it turns into a big deal with a lot of people.”
The student voiced her concern with other students not showing caution toward the virus, saying everyone is going to get it eventually and house-hopping, not wearing masks and not social distancing would only speed up the spread.
She said there are other aspects contributing to the spread of the virus other than house parties.
“Parties are not the only reason that the virus is spreading,” she said. “College students come from everywhere around. Of course it will spread.”
The student expressed how it was not easy to stop hosting parties since the house being used has multiple tenants, which gives each inhabitant a say in what goes on — whether right or wrong.
Two members of the house have contracted COVID-19 and are currently quarantining for 14 days.
The student is waiting for her test, but said she thinks the results will come back positive since she has had a bad headache, a sore throat and other flu-like symptoms.
The student said she was still able to have fun this weekend by having a gathering outside on the house porch with the people already exposed and living in the house. However, this did not stop others from coming along, not fearing possibly getting COVID-19.
“Parties and events with groups of people will keep going on until there is a mandate stopping everyone,” she said. “Stay home and hang out with friends, and if you do test positive, stay home and do not expose anyone else.”
Though there are students hosting parties, there are others who are attending parties or similar hangouts.
Cacee Milburn, a sophomore majoring in pre-radiology, said she likes to keep the group small and hang out with the same five people. The group has not noticed any signs of COVID-19 since they have started hanging out.
“I’m kinda more scared to go out now with all the new cases. I’ve been to the [Wild] Rose once, but there were not even 10 people there,” Milburn said.
Milburn believes the virus is inevitable since students reuse their masks without washing them after each day of use.
“… People are still going to do it. It’s like, ‘What’s the difference from going to a party and going to Walmart?’ Nothing,” Milburn said about her reasoning for COVID-19’s inevitability.
While some students are using their college experience to go out to parties, others are fine with staying in their dorm rooms and sticking to school-related events that practice better safety precautions recommended by health departments.
Rebecca Irby, a sophomore majoring in music education, has not been to any parties or bars because she does not want to get COVID-19. Irby said she has attended a few Christian Challenge activities the school has offered.
“I don’t feel like I am getting the college experience. I do live in a residential facility, but other than the dorm experience, I am missing out on other things,” Irby said. “My ideal college experience was going to involve being in the marching band, joining a bunch of clubs, dancing in the club, meeting new people and having fun. But I have not gotten to accomplish any of this due to COVID.”
She points out the main point of college is to get a degree and better oneself in education instead of going to parties and going crazy.
“I would much rather be safe and keep others safe than get the ‘college experience,’ “ Irby said. “The school is trying their best to protect everyone while still being on campus.”
The university released a Covid-19 Data Dashboard on Friday. A total of 81 on-campus persons tested positive for the virus from Aug. 17 to 27.
On Thursday night, Hays City Commissioners voted 3-2 to extend a mask mandate in the city until early October.