It took a while for Manhattan High School senior Will Bannister to fully process what the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the school year would mean for him.
Bannister, who is the student council vice president, had been to Costa Rica for spring break, and following the initial postponement of in-person classes for two weeks, Bannister said he was glad to have that time to catch back up after his 14-day quarantine.
But when Gov. Laura Kelly announced that Kansas would be the first state to close school buildings for the rest of the school year, that’s when Bannister began to think what that meant for the end of his senior year.
“It took me a while to wrap my head around what that would mean for prom and graduation and spring sports,” he said.
Now with classes resuming online, Bannister and other Manhattan High School students are adjusting to classes that are now structured a bit more like college courses than high school classes.
Across the Manhattan-Ogden school district, teachers have raced to adapt their classes and learning structures for education outside of the classroom, but at Manhattan High, the challenge is perhaps a bit greater given the size of the student body — about 1,800 students — and the dozens of classes offered at the school.
“Take away siblings, we have probably 1,700 different schoolhouses right now, when everyone’s home becomes a school,” principal Michael Dorst said. “There’s different schedules at those homes right now, that we have to be aware of and respect.”
When it issued guidance to districts on what they should expect from students, the Kansas Department of Education recommended that middle and high school students spend no more than three hours a day on classwork, split in 30-minute increments between classes.
But at MHS, students won’t be expected to finish that daily work on a set schedule, and the school won’t have a “bell schedule” for its online classwork, Dorst said, given that families may have different schedules or technology needs.
For teachers, the challenge now becomes deciding on what elements of the curriculum are essential, and what elements can be left out, now that their time with students is more limited. While the teachers are looking at just the next few weeks in crafting lesson plans, they also have to keep in mind where students might be when regular classes resume.
“Our teachers are thinking to the future, the next time our students are in class,” Dorst said. “Where will they be able to reach out and fill those gaps we may experience through the last semester of the school year?”
High school students will still receive letter grades, Dorst said, rather than having the school switch to a pass/fail system. But in maintain the grading scheme, Dorst said teachers are putting students into a position that will allow them to keep or improve their existing grades as long as they stay engaged and communicating with their teachers.
Teachers also will offer office hours for students to contact them each day, and Dorst said the school is working to develop a central location for students and parents to find out when each teacher’s hours are.
“Teachers are being really responsive to us,” Bannister said. “They make sure they have office hours for students to ask questions. I don’t think we yet have a firm grip on how the rest of school year is going to work, but teachers are doing a great job of making themselves available to each student.”
Although classes only officially resumed Wednesday, teachers and administrators have been working for the past few weeks to create continuous learning plans for their classes. Teachers also called each of the high school’s families to conduct wellness checks and see what those families might need, and as of Friday morning, the teachers had received more than 1,700 responses.
At the school building, a skeleton crew of essential administrators and office staff have kept the school going, Dorst said, and it was that crew that has been serving as the interface between teachers and the Manhattan community.
Dorst said the rest of the semester will look different, with several spring events cancelled or postponed. National-level Advanced Placement testing for the school’s advanced students will continue in May, although testing will be done remotely and will focus on comprehension, rather than regurgitating facts, Dorst said.
All activities and athletics for the rest of the year were canceled, but Dorst said the school is looking to figure out ways to still conduct things like National Honor Society inductions and student council elections.
But even with those events, some students are still losing out on sense of structure that the school routine provided, particularly with extracurricular activities or senior year staples like prom.
“We’re not doing sports anymore,” Bannister said. “The school play was canceled. There are a lot of hands-on activities that happened every day that were really important to students that just aren’t available anymore.”
The school is still working on a plan for graduation, but with not much known about the next two days, much less the next two months, Dorst said it’s a question of waiting for more clarity on the situation. In any case, the school will look to try to find a way to have a graduation ceremony that is as close to traditional as possible, he said.
“People my age have mixed opinions on graduation and prom being canceled, but I think that deep down, all of us secretly regret that,” Bannister said.
Since classes resumed Wednesday, the student council officers have started doing virtual daily announcements, shared on social media each morning. Bannister said the student council is now hosting a virtual spirit week each week, instead of just twice a semester, in an effort to maintain a sense of school community.
“Having our kids being back involved in the school day, even if it’s different, brings a sense of community,” Dorst said. “No matter how much we do though, it’s going to be different, and it has been harder. But being able to be back in school on Wednesday was a welcomed point of the last month.”
Miriam Chamberlain was starting to get better from her battle with COVID-19, but then she fell into what her doctors called a relapse of her symptoms.
The K-State senior in journalism had been on a study abroad trip to London over spring break with several classmates as well as professor Andrew Smith. But when the group returned to Manhattan, Chamberlain began to suspect that her fatigue wasn’t just jet lag.
Chamberlain and the other students took the threat of having been infected seriously, and they quarantined themselves for two weeks. When Smith was hospitalized and confirmed to have the virus on March 20, though, Chamberlain said it became much clearer that they, too, were likely infected.
And as her symptoms got worse, a positive coronavirus test verified on March 31 only confirmed Chamberlain’s assumption that she was infected. She was in daily contact with health officials, and toward the end of her 14-day quarantine period, her symptoms actually got “about ten times worse,” and she spent last Sunday in the emergency room.
Now back in her apartment in a second round of quarantine, Chamberlain says she’s focused on getting better, with her dog, Denver, by her side. She said while she hasn’t seen any “major recovery,” her symptoms have slowly subsided day by day.
“I didn’t think I’d be sick this long,” she said. “Since (being in the ER), I’ve been trying to get my strength back. It’s exhausting trying to fight this virus.”
She’s still doing classwork, now that classes are online, although her professors and classmates have been supporting her and giving her a bit of slack as she slowly recovers.
Originally from the Chicago area, Chamberlain said she chose to come back to Manhattan after the trip to avoid infecting any of her family in Chicago. Her mother and grandmother wanted to fly down from Chicago to be with her, but Chamberlain joked that her father was able to “put some sense into them.”
For now, Chamberlain makes do with regular group video sessions while her family tries to do as much for her as they can from hundreds of miles away. She likely won’t see them in person for another few months, since she doesn’t want to risk reinfecting herself or her family while the coronavirus situation remains volatile.
Locally, friends have stepped up to make sure Chamberlain has what she needs, and she said her journalism professor Tom Hallaq and others worked to bring her groceries and other personal items.
“A big group of them came together and brought a bunch of stuff, and I couldn’t really tell them no,” she joked. “I haven’t really had much of an appetite these past couple of weeks, but they wanted me to have a stocked fridge, and they brought me things like coloring books, so I could stay active.”
The senior said she’s looking to stay on track in her courses, so she can graduate in May and not have to stay an extra semester, although she is planning on returning in December for fall commencement, since K-State is allowing spring graduates to walk at those ceremonies.
Chamberlain said she was grateful for the way others in the community have rallied around her, with friends and other connections all over the state reaching out to check on her.
“I’m alive still,” she said. “I’m surviving. I know how much everyone misses being around everybody, and I won’t take that for granted.
“I’m not from here — I transferred (to K-State) just two years ago,” she said. “It’s nice to be a part of that K-State family and that Kansas family, as well as that support back home. I just want people to stay safe and wash your hands.”
Riley County has two new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 11, but there is still no evidence of community spread, officials announced Saturday.
The two cases, both travel-related, are two men: a 19-year-old student at K-State, and a 33-year-old man, public health officer Julie Gibbs said.
The K-State student had gone to New Jersey, and when he returned, he began to self-isolate himself in his Marlatt Hall suite. When he reported his symptoms to Lafene Health Center, he was tested March 23, and university officials moved him into isolation in a Jardine Complex apartment.
The older man had been to Kentucky for work-related reasons, and when he returned and began exhibiting symptoms, he contacted his health provider and was tested March 27. The man, now symptom-free, has been quarantined with his family in their home.
Both men remain in contact with local health officials. Gibbs said the Riley County Health Department is monitoring 22 people, with officials awaiting the results of 28 tests.
In Kansas, most cases are in the 24-74 age range, with the majority of cases in their 50s. Cases in Kansas jumped 78 cases to 698 Saturday, with four new deaths contributing to a total of 21 for the state.
Locally, the median age is 36 and mostly males, Gibbs said. Two cases of the virus who were previously hospitalized at Ascension Via Christi have now been released.
All cases locally have been connected to travel to the Kansas City area or outside of the state, although Gibbs noted that it is only a matter of time before the county starts to see community spread.
Gibbs said the Centers for Disease Control now recommends that individuals wear cloth-based face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are hard to maintain, as evidence shows that a significant portion of the population might be carriers of the coronavirus without showing symptoms. Gibbs said the health department and CDC both provide online guidance on how to make homemade masks.
Riley County Police Department assistant director Kurt Moldrup said businesses have largely been compliant with the stay-at-home order, and in a few cases where officers have received reports of businesses violating the order, they’ve also successfully visited with the businesses in requesting that they stop operations.
Gibbs said while she can understand individuals wanting to host public events like evening cruises, she discourages any non-essential reason for individuals to leave their homes, per the ‘stay-at-home’ order.
The Geary County Health Department announced the county’s first positive case of COVID-19 Saturday afternoon.
The infected person is a 40-year-old Junction City woman with no known Fort Riley connections. The individual in question had self-quarantined for 14 days when she began to feel sick. However, there’s still a possibility she may have communicated the illness to others. There’s also the matter of where she picked the illness up.
Geary County Health Department Director Tammy Von Busch said officials don’t know yet where the woman acquired the infection.
“Right now, both of my nurses are doing investigations with this particular individual to find out where she’s been and make sure that we can track down wherever she might have picked it up and get in contact with any other contacts that she may have,” Von Busch said. “So until then, we don’t know exactly where she got it.”
The health department is now working to identify people she came into contact with and contact anyone who was exposed.
Potential cases have been contacted with instructions to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, including fever and respiratory ones.
She was tested March 27, and the positive results came back Saturday morning.
At this time, officials said no further information about the patient will be released.
Geary County Emergency Management Director Garry Berges and Von Busch addressed the issue Saturday afternoon at a press conference.
“The female patient is currently under medical care, and is quarantined out of her residence,” Berges said.
He said the health department had encouraged everyone in the community to stay home and avoid non-essential outings. This is encouraged even more so with a confirmed case in the community, Berges said. He encourage people who feel they must go out to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing and take other protective measures such as wearing a cloth face mask.
Some people, he said, had done a good job of practicing social distancing and following guidelines, but many have chosen to ignore restrictions on gatherings and outings put out by the health department.
Von Busch stressed the need to follow guidelines to prevent infection.
“If we have community spread going on, the only way that we’re going to prevent that is people please stay home,” she said. “They have come out and recommended now that if you do need to go out and do the essentials — go to the doctor, go to the grocery store, whatever — that you can use some kind of a homemade mask that will help you know protect you, protect people around you from coming in contact with people spraying saliva or whatever.”
Von Busch asked people not to turn grocery shopping into a family outing. People can designate one family member to carry out essential errands while other family members stay home, something that limits exposure.
She encouraged people to wash their hands or even change their clothes when they’ve had close contacts with others to prevent the spread.
By washing hands often and maintaining social distancing, Berges said, the spread of COVID-19 can be minimized.
He said there is a multi-agency team working on the county’s response to COVID-19, including the city, the county, the Unified School District 475, the health department and Geary Community Hospital, among others.
People who are sick with respiratory symptoms are encouraged to call Geary Community Hospital ahead of time, so emergency room workers have time to prepare.
Officials are awaiting the results of 13 tests, and 35 tests have come back as negative.
Von Busch said she expected more positive cases to crop up in the county following this first case.
The peak of COVID-19 infections, in this area, is expected to arrive toward the end of April.