As K-State students start arriving back into town before the fall semester starts Aug. 17, health officials are waiting to see how that affects the local coronavirus case numbers.

Julie Gibbs, director of the Riley County Health Department, said she will be watching close to see how the return of college students — which started this weekend — will impact the area.

“I think we’re all a little anxious for the next two weeks as far as what our numbers are going to look like,” she said. “We’re always concerned with hospital capacity and overwhelming our healthcare system, here in the county and also in the region. With the safeguards that we have in place and with our consistent messaging, we can hopefully prevent a lot of (increase) from happening.”

She said she is in daily contact with local hospitals and capacity is fine at the moment, but that can change.

“We expected students to come back as early as this weekend — I think we are prepared for that,” she said.

With students coming in from all over the state and the nation where policies and laws vary, Gibbs said it is imperative they know what the rules are here.

“It’s going to look different from county to county, and certainly from state to state,” she said.

In an attempt to keep COVID-19 at bay, Manhattan and K-State have mandatory mask policies in place and restrictions on gatherings and bar activity.

“Just try to avoid crowded places,” Gibbs said. “I think that’s a big reminder to all of our college students. It’s nice to come back and mingle with friends again and see people again that you haven’t seen in a long time. But certainly, just try to avoid crowds and wear your mask when you’re out.”

Alex Owens, a K-State junior from Naples, Florida, moved into her rental on Friday. Alex, who comes from a place with 9,662 COVID-19 cases and 124 deaths in the county, said she’s not too nervous about her current situation.

“I feel like college students have the ability to understand that they have to do these things to be able to enjoy something that we all love,” she said. “College sucks, but it is also amazing. I think a lot of students are going to try their best to follow the rules — wear masks and social distance.”

Her mother, Michelle Owens, also said she’s not too concerned, especially not enough to have her daughter miss out on the college experience.

“She can get sick anyplace,” Michelle said. “She might as well enjoy herself.”

Gibbs said students should be cognizant of who their roommates are, where they travel and the potential for contracting the virus in the home space.

“Really get to know your roommates, and by that, I mean have conversations with them about where have they been over the summer,” she said. “Get a good idea of any symptoms that they’re having or where have they traveled, so that you know them and know what to expect from each other. You’re living together, and you want to keep everyone safe.”

In the living space, she said to make sure there is always hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies handy.

Michelle and Alex said K-State also made adjustments for the dorm residents — changes that could account for some people not returning to campus this fall.

A big part of the college experience is dorm life and having roommates, they said. Now the rooms are single occupancy, which takes away from that experience.

Alex and Jessica Cude, her friend and fellow K-State student, said they both know people who are not coming back to the university this year, and not just because of a fear of the virus.

“I know three people that … just moved to online school,” Alex said. “And I’ve heard of other people … that just can’t afford it anymore because they haven’t been working.”