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Kansas State considering starting spring semester online



Kansas — Kansas State University has warned that the spring semester could begin online because the coronavirus continues to rage in the surrounding community and statewide.

President Richard Myers said in a written statement that the COVID-19 indicators the university monitors to make decisions are “not moving in a positive direction.”

“New case rates continue to increase, as do hospitalizations throughout our host communities and state. Our medical authorities tell us a new variant of the virus is likely to increase the transmission rates of this already widespread pathogen. The rollout of vaccines, while holding great potential, remains slower than anticipated in the country, but especially in our state.”

Gov. Laura Kelly ordered flags to be flown at half staff on Thursday to honor those who have died from COVID-19. Kansas reported 130 more coronavirus deaths from Monday to Wednesday, taking the state’s total to 3,027, while the number of confirmed cases rose by 5,501 to 236,818.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that Kansas had administered 20,110 vaccine shots, or 690 for every 100,000 residents, making it the only state to inoculate fewer than 700 residents out of every 100,000.

Jon Rolph, a member of the Kansas Board of Regents who leads a state regional COVID-19 reporting effort, said intensive care unit beds in hospitals that can handle acute-care patients are “at a premium right now.”

Rolph told Kelly and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature that 11 hospitals in the Kansas City metropolitan area said Monday that that they were full, and both major hospital systems in Wichita were looking to send patients elsewhere.

At Labette Health in southeast Kansas, staff members are growing fatigued after months of fighting the virus, said CEO Brian Williams.

Williams, an Army veteran, said the ICU sometimes resembles a front-line battlefield.

“I think we naively in the beginning assumed we wouldn’t lose any COVID patients, that we were that good, our ICU nurses were that good,” he said. “I think it is hurtful when reality sets in.”

Meanwhile, no final decision has been made at Kansas State, but administrators are meeting to discuss contingency plans and hope to make an announcement soon.

“We are trying to look at the trends and say: ‘What is the landscape?’ Are we safe to reopen? What do we need to do to control our environments and also protect the communities we are in,’” said Jeff Morris, a university spokesman.

The school’s main campus is in Manhattan but it also operates programs in Salina and Olathe. It already pushed the start of the semester back by a week to Jan. 25, and has canceled spring break.

Classes also were disrupted in the fall semester, with many professors shifting to teaching online. No classes were held in-person after Thanksgiving, Morris said.

So far, Pittsburg State University, Emporia University and Wichita State have said they plan to begin the spring semester with a mix of in-person, online and hybrid classes.

Dr. Shirley Lefever, interim executive vice president and provost at Wichita State, said faculty, staff and students have been instructed to “always be prepared for the possibility of 100% remote learning should circumstances change.”