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Safe spaces
K-State provides space for students who need to quarantine, isolate

Students living on the K-State campus who test positive for coronavirus face an immediate choice: go home or move to an isolation room stocked with two weeks of supplies.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, the university this semester has instituted a policy in which on-campus students who test positive for the virus can move into a temporary living space. The university also allows students living of campus to move into the isolation dorms for a fee.

“We’ve got a system set up where if … we get notified of a positive test, we immediately take that student and isolate them,” said Derek Jackson, associate vice president for student life. “The students who live with us, the ones who live in residence halls, we actively isolate and quarantine.”

Isolation is for students who test positive; quarantine is for those who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive. These students go to Jardine Apartments and Van Zile Hall, which is a dormitory. If roommates need to isolate, they can do that together.

They also can go home and serve their isolation or quarantine time there.

“Most are not choosing to go home,” Jackson said. “They’re choosing to isolate here on campus.”

The apartments come furnished and preloaded with enough supplies, including non-perishable foods and snacks, to last two weeks. Every evening someone delivers a hot meal to the apartment. If students want anything additional, they must make arrangements for it.

They can have food delivered or have a friend drop supplies off to them, provided there is no contact.

“We tell them to make sure that they’re not breaking the isolation and quarantine rules,” Jackson said. “They can tell the delivery person, ‘Come to our apartment, drop it at our door, knock on it, you can back away, and I’ll go pick it up.’ Now that we’re doing meal delivery that’s our standard. We’ll knock on the door, set the food there at the door and then back away to make sure they pick it up, and then we’ll move on.”

If students who live off campus need a place to isolate, the apartments are available for $50 a day to cover meals and supplies.

That’s $700 for a typical two-week isolation period.

“We were not quarantining off-campus students, but we are able to isolate them,” Jackson said. “If you got a fraternity house or sorority house or apartment where you’ve got one sick student, we will isolate those off-campus students in a space on campus.”

Those students receive the same the services provided to the on-campus students.

The dean of student life office also is working with the students so they can keep up with their classwork.

“The faculty will work with the students to make up the work or … delivering the lecture or the content both in person as well as over some form of media either taped or zoomed directly,” he said. “Our faculty are doing a nice job of maintaining delivery methods that are conducive to students that are wanting to be home or needing to be in isolation or quarantine.”

As of Sept. 11, 245 students were in isolation and 476 had been cleared from isolation. Those were the numbers for students on and off campus.

As of Monday, fewer than 70 apartment units were in use.

Beverage-making company to bring in 37 full-time jobs to MHK

A beverage-making company will bring 37 new full-time jobs to Manhattan with an average yearly salary of $38,000 for most employees.

Bev-Hub LLC, a Topeka beverage co-packer that produces beverages (mainly coldbrew coffee), cans, labels and more, will provide an average wage of $19 per hour, which is $38,000 or higher per year, officials said.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of it,” said commissioner Wynn Butler.

Manhattan city commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved an economic development grant for $240,500, including incentives to help with an expansion and renovation to the building that the company bought in the city’s business park.

The money will come from the city’s economic development fund, which is supported by a voter-approved sales tax. The company also has applied for a 10-year tax abatement on the $900,000 expansion.

Bev-Hub bought the former Tallgrass Brewing Company building near the Manhattan Regional Airport. Tallgrass, a previous recipient of city economic development funding, went out of business.

The business hopes to be operational in January or February 2021, said Jennifer Sourk, general counsel at Bev-Hub.

Bev-Hub aims to produce about 250 cans per minute, Sourk estimated, which is over one million cans per month.

“This seems like a perfect fit for us,” said commissioner Linda Morse.

Hiring will begin in the “very near future,” as the business is in the hiring process, Sourk said. Bev-Hub is ready to start construction. Bev-Hub also has a site in Wichita.

A box turtle withdraws into its shell on Baldwin Park Road on Tuesday. Getting hit by cars is a common cause of fatality for turtles in the summer.

City approves KDOT grant for North Campus Corridor improvements

A $2.9 million state grant will help pay for improvements along Kimball Avenue, in what is called the North Campus Corridor.

Manhattan city commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved the grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). Commissioners also agreed to a proposal with the power company Evergy to bury power lines in the North Campus Corridor area.

The North Campus Corridor is the area along North Manhattan Avenue, Kimball Avenue, Denison Avenue, and College Avenue. It was identified as an area of growth as a result of the National Bio-Agro Defense Facility.

The city will be reimbursed for payments made on the project during construction, officials said. KDOT has given a total of $7.1 million of grant money to the city for the project.

KDOT became involved with project because of the number of accidents in the area, officials said. There have been 214 car crashes in North Campus Corridor from 2012 to 2017, officials said.

“That’s a really high number,” said Brian Johnson, city engineer.

This amounts to 30 crashes per year. Three people have died, and 65 were injured in those crashes.

“At the end of the day, it’s also about safety,” mayor Usha Reddi said. “And pointing out how many accidents that happen at some of those intersections is very important.”

Johnson said the answer to reducing car crashes is to eliminate driveways and build raised medians, similar to what crews did with the raised median on Bluemont Avenue east of Manhattan Avenue a few years ago.

“All of a sudden our accident counts went down,” Johnson said.

Reverse frontage roads will allow access after the removal of driveways, Johnson said. Johnson said crews will remove six driveways.

Officials said the city began talking about this project in 2012 to improve the area. In 2013, then-Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz presented a plan to the city for growth in the area as the National Bio-Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) moves in, according to a city memo.

“It’s up to us to create the best community we can for the campus too,” Morse said about the project.

K-State thanked the city for its support of this project.

“Tonight’s request will help move us forward in the next step of the infrastructure that brings us one more step closer to the potential of realizing this North Campus Corridor master plan,” said Linda Cook, chief of staff and director of community relations at K-State.

This portion of the project includes burying overhead power lines along with other street and infrastructure improvements, which costs $10 million. The infrastructure costs $692,142, officials estimated.

Officials continue to explore grants to pay for the entire project.

The total project is slated for full completion in 2023, officials said.

“It’ll be a great addition to the community when we complete it,” said commissioner Linda Morse.

The entire North Campus Corridor project includes 13 phases and the city has completed about 75% of the project, said Brian Johnson, city engineer.

Work completed thus far includes widening of lanes for Marlatt Avenue and Denison Avenue, among other streets, increasing stormwater capacity for Marlatt, creating new trails and increased street and pedestrian lighting in the area, among other improvements.

In the remaining project phases, crews will install a new traffic signal along Claflin Road and widen North Manhattan Avenue to four lanes, among other changes.

City commissioners will review this project again in the fall and winter to discuss future phases of the project.

Riley County confirms 111 new coronavirus cases; county announces new outbreak

Riley County has confirmed 111 new coronavirus cases since Monday, officials said Wednesday.

The reason for the big jump is primarily a delay in reporting previous positive cases from the state tracking system, EpiTrax, officials said. Most of the new positive cases in this report reflect statistics from tests up to two weeks ago, officials said.

Recent issues with the state’s software, including reporting delays, software crashes and lack of information, are what caused the overall delay in reporting, officials said. The Riley County Health Department is working on other ways to gather the data directly to the county to avoid delays, officials said.

“We’re doing our best and this is the data we have at this point,” said Julie Gibbs, local health officer. “We’re working to get the information straightened out.”

The total number of cases in Riley County since the pandemic began in March is 1,501. Of those, 772 are active, 721 are recovered and eight people have died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

County health officials on Wednesday originally released a report with a higher number of new cases, but they later said that number was wrong and corrected it to 111.

Officials also confirmed another outbreak in Riley County at Hylton Heights KinderCare in Manhattan, officials said Wednesday. An employee tested positive for the virus on Sept. 3. The facility closed voluntarily then, officials said.

Since that initial exposure, six other people associated with the facility who had close contact with the positive employee, have also tested positive for the virus, officials said. There are also three pending tests, and the business remains closed.

There are currently 15 active outbreaks in Riley County, officials said. The outbreak at Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Kansas State University has expired, they said Wednesday.

Gibbs also provided additional information to The Mercury on the outbreak at the Homestead Assisted Living facility in Manhattan. She said an employee at the facility tested positive for the virus Aug. 26. On the same day, a resident who was being treated at the hospital received a positive result after a rapid test. After that, eight residents tested positive and health officials are monitoring at least three employees. Three people associated with the facility have died after testing positive for the virus.

“Homestead did everything correctly in contacting us immediately and getting testing started,” Gibbs said in a Wednesday morning email to The Mercury.

Ali Ellis, marketing director for Midwest Health Inc., which is the managing partner for Homestead, said it is unclear how the coronavirus infiltrated the Homestead Assisted Living facility.

Ellis said one resident spent some time at an unidentified hospital for a decline in health and then they came back to Homestead. Ellis said this could be one possible source.

“But we really don’t know,” she said.

Ellis, like Gibbs, said the facility has done everything right in following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mask-wearing.

“We’re also doing everything that everyone recommends we do,” Ellis said.

She said the state recently completed an inspection and survey on Homestead and it had zero deficiencies.

“The facility’s done everything they can,” Ellis said. “It’s the way [the virus] travels. We don’t know.”

In addition, officials said the Riley County Health Department coronavirus briefings on Facebook are phasing out. There will be no live broadcast Wednesday afternoon as Gibbs will provide a pre-recorded message at 4:15 p.m. Moving forward, news briefings on the virus will occur on an as needed basis.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported 50,870 cases, 2,616 hospitalizations and 586 deaths statewide Wednesday. That is up 971 cases and 52 deaths since Monday, according to KDHE. Geary County’s total since the pandemic began stood at 382 cases; Pottawatomie County’s total was 192, according to KDHE.

Gibbs says three active COVID-19 cases are tied to the Riley County office building

A Riley County health official confirmed Wednesday that three active coronavirus cases and one recovered case are tied to the Riley County office building in downtown Manhattan.

Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs told The Mercury that no members of the public nor other county employees were exposed to the virus.

“We did not detect any spread in the office,” Gibbs said.

Two sources with knowledge of the situation told The Mercury there are four active cases tied to the building. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity. Gibbs could not confirm that, saying she was not aware of a fourth active case. One source also reported a fifth county employee hasbeen exposed to the virus and is currently quarantining. Gibbs did not confirm that either.

Of the three positive cases and one recovered case, at least two are Riley County residents. It is unclear what county the other person(s) reside in. The most recent active case result came in over the weekend, Gibbs said.

She said neither any members of the public nor people in the office building were exposed.

Gibbs said the reason the virus did not spread further in the office building is because of mask wearing and people maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from one another.

“Masks were worn in every department,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said because of these precautions, the county did not need to shut down the building, at 110 Courthouse Plaza. Crews have ramped up their cleaning operations at the building as well, Gibbs said.

These employees work in various departments on different floors in the building, Gibbs said.

“None of the employees are linked together epidemiologically as information obtained by the disease investigation determined an outside source,” Gibbs said in a Wednesday morning email to The Mercury.

There are no pending tests from the county office building at this time, Gibbs said. She said the county department heads did everything they were supposed to do correctly and notified her right away about the cases.

One county employee who tested positive for the virus about two weeks ago has since recovered. However, Gibbs told The Mercury on Tuesday evening that this person lives with someone who has tested positive.

Gibbs said she has exempted this specific employee from quarantining for 14 days. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment allows local health officers to make such exemptions.