Harvey County confirms COVID-19 cluster at Bethel College

Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 11:03 AM CDT

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Bethel College President Jon Gering and Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington on Monday addressed a confirmed COVID-19 cluster at Bethel College, providing insight in the effort to prevent further spread of the virus and fielding questions from the media.

BETHEL COLLEGE COVID CLUSTER

WATCH LIVE: Bethel College and Harvey County health officials are set to discuss a cluster of COVID-19 identified during precautionary testing at the college. https://bit.ly/3kPUrmq #kwch12

Posted by KWCH 12 Eyewitness News on Monday, August 17, 2020

The cluster includes 46 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There have been 482 individuals tested. Some test results are pending.

The cluster was identified through precautionary COVID-19 testing conducted by Bethel College. The institution requires all students, faculty, staff and administrators to be tested for COVID-19. Bethel also requires daily temperature checks, health status monitoring through a self-screening app, and individuals to wear a face mask indoors and outdoors on the campus.

“Mandatory testing during reopening is an effective way to assess the prevalence of COVID-19 in our student and employee population at the start of the semester,” said Bethel College President Jon Gering. “Our efforts have provided valuable public health information and revealed important health information for students and their families.”

The county said those who tested positive for the virus have been able to self-isolate on campus or at their permanent residence. Bethel College’s Emergency Response Team, along with the Health Department, will regularly monitor the health of the individuals, as well as follow up on all close contacts.

The college has moved to a hybrid model allowing professors to hold classes virtually, or in-person if they have students who are not impacted by the recent cluster. Detailed information regarding Bethel’s COVID-19 procedures can be found on its website at www.bethelks.edu/coronavirus-information.

“We appreciate Bethel’s proactive approach to preparing for its in-person fall semester,” said Harvey County Health Department Director Lynnette Redington. “We are of course glad that the individuals in these cases are generally in good health and good spirits. Being able to identify these individuals with COVID-19 now helps protect not just the Bethel community, but the communities of Harvey County as a whole.”

Some of the confirmed cases reside out-of-county or out-of-state when the college is not in session. However, these individuals will be included in Harvey County’s COVID-19 statistics, as Harvey County is their current place of residence.

Gering said for now, the college has the space and services available to handle the cases they have. To this point, those who have tested positive are either asymptomatic or have minor symptoms of the virus. In addition to isolating the COVID-19 positive cases, Gering said students are remaining on campus while the community is discouraged from coming onto the campus for now. Also, students who have not yet arrived on campus are asked to wait.

In addition to the widespread testing of everyone coming onto campus ahead of the fall semester scheduled to start this week, Gering said the fall semester is starting with hybrid options, allowing for more online learning. With in-person classes, he said, some classes are moved to larger areas to allow for more social distancing.

Being a smaller, private college with smaller class sizes helps in the effort to spread out students and to monitor those who’ve tested positive, Gering said. For now, a continued cautious approach involves several safety measures that include having the cafeteria hand out food instead of students gathering in the cafeteria for meals.

While the situation with 46 confirmed cases presents challenges for Bethel College, Gering said he’s pleased that the college is in position to respond to what the pre-fall semester testing revealed now, being proactive as opposed to reactive with a potentially far greater spread if the testing wasn’t done.

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