MANHATTAN, Kan. — At least 13 members of a Kansas State University fraternity tested positive for COVID-19. And after witnessing what she deemed unacceptable behavior off-campus, the Manhattan, Kansas, mayor worries that those numbers will continue to climb.
Mayor Usha Reddi took pictures a couple weeks ago that she posted on Facebook, showing packed bars and patios with students shoulder-to-shoulder – most of them not wearing masks.
"On the front, you could see most of the people were doing the right thing, but on the back, where most bars have patios, it was very packed, packed to the brim," Reddi said.
After alerting other city and county officials, one of those bars, O'Malley's Alley, was ordered to close on Saturday. The health department cited the bar for not following guidelines that limit restaurants and bars to seated areas only and for not following the city's mask mandate.
However, the closure was brief. O'Malley's Alley posted on Twitter it was back open as of Monday.
Reddi said her concerns are not only for those on campus, but that the virus will spread like wildfire through the community. An increase in cases could force students in Kindergarten through 12th grade to move to remote learning or close businesses – again.
Last week, K-State reported 63 COVID-19 cases on campus, with a positivity rate of 9.29%. The university also launched an online dashboard to provide the latest data to the public.
Students have been instructed to wear face masks, social distance and do their part to keep others safe.
Reddi said she hopes the warning prompts bars and students to take necessary safety precautions, not just for themselves, but for the surrounding schools.
"If [the positivity rate] goes beyond 10% for a couple weeks, they're going to go to remote instruction, and that's a huge injustice to our young kids," Reddi said. " If you're in higher education, in college, you can probably handle an online class. But a second grader, third grader? They can't."
Riley County currently has 674 active COVID-19 with an 11.7% positivity rate this week. The average patient's age is around 30.
But it's not just the younger population Reddi is worried about.
"We have lots of teachers that are much older," she said. "There isn't a big substitute pool anymore for K-12, and our faculty, even at K-State University are older. So, we need to take care of all of them, otherwise things are going to shut down really fast."
Reddi said it's not just bars and restaurants, that a big part of the problem is house parties and backyard get-togethers. She warned that even smaller gatherings can be problematic, sharing that 4 K-State football players contracted the virus by playing video games together.
K-State issued the following letter to students:
Dear K-State Community:
The return to in-person classes and our campuses is an exciting time. There's nothing quite like the beginning of a new semester, full of promise and hope. We have worked hard over the summer months to welcome you back to K-State in a safe and responsible manner.
After our first day of classes, we're pleased to report that most students adhered to our requirements for face coverings and physical distancing in our classrooms. Thank you for this. As we monitor the behaviors in our communities, however, we've already seen many examples of those who will not follow these simple practices to protect everyone.
Right now, as never before in any of our lifetimes, we need everyone to follow the same playbook. Our plans to reopen our campuses were built on our belief that K-Staters share a unique concern for each other. This means we must all do what it takes to protect our fellow Wildcats. If 90% of us follow the rules and 10% do not, we will not be successful in our efforts.
Just yesterday we saw an example of a major university that reopened, only to shut down after one week due to emerging COVID-19 outbreaks. This can happen to us if we fail to follow the simple rules of wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing. We ask that you follow these practices in the classroom, when walking outside on campus and off campus. The COVID-19 virus does not stop at the classroom door or the campus boundary. This is an uncomfortable truth in the time we live in.
We ask each of you to personally reflect on the role you play as a member of the K-State family. Lives literally depend on it. Please help us be a university that successfully reopened, and stayed open.
Richard B. Myers, President
Charles Taber, Provost and Executive Vice President