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BCC facing the challenge of COVID-19

Less than two weeks into the fall semester at Barton Community College, administrators and trustees took some time Tuesday to reflect on efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vice President of Instruction Elaine Simmons said experience and collaboration have paid off.

“Some folks fall apart, some are scared and some are unsure,” she said. But, “everyone has something to contribute and every one of us has an opportunity to extend ourselves to others.

“We don’t know how to run a college with COVID — no one does,” she continued. “We’re living it every day. It’s important that we talk. We’re having to learn this among ourselves.”

Mike Johnson, chairman of the Barton Board of Trustees, said he’s seen similar cooperation among the state’s 19 community colleges. But the pandemic response team also receives direction from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Barton County Health Department and others. “It’s been quite the undertaking and when KDHE or someone says, ‘do this,’ everything you’ve done for the last three months changes.”

Johnson knows individuals and businesses throughout the community face some of the same challenges.

“The quarantine cases have just as big an impact on everyone as being (tested) positive,” Johnson said, noting that some people who aren’t sick have to stay in isolation because of exposure. “It will in most cases have just as much an impact on scheduling.”

Unique challenges

One unique challenge for college campuses is that they are filled with younger adults who don’t always make the best choices, Johnson said. “We have a bunch of 17-19-year-olds we’re relying on to make good decisions.”

In Ellis County, after Fort Hays State University students returned the health department saw a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the county. It was reported that several people who recently tested positive for COVID-19 attended house parties and visited bars in Hays on August 14 and 15. 

Wednesday, citing testing data showing the spread of COVID-19, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department ordered nine University of Kansas fraternities and sororities to quarantine for 14 days.

At Barton County, Simmons said, efforts are underway to educate students on healthy choices and to thank them for doing the right things. Many students understand. 

“There are still some students that are making some amazing choices,” Simmons said. “And faculty that are turning on a dime. Almost 15 people volunteered to do screening for two weeks, on top of their jobs.”

Vice President of Student Services Angie Maddy said some students have started the semester in isolation.

“They do what they need to do. Sunday we moved eight people from their rooms to a quarantine room,” she said. “They’re disappointed ... but they’re really focused on what brought them here. That’s the kind of stuff we’re trying to teach them in a regular year: Stay focused on your goals and what has brought you to this place.

I’ve seen them say, ‘I’ll do what I need to do.’”

This week, six students who spent some time in quarantine at the Camp Aldrich conference center in northern Barton County were able to move into student housing on campus, Maddy said. They had been attending classes via Zoom.

“Saturday we had a campfire in the approved campfire location. We made s’mores for them,” said Maddy, who spent more than two hours with the students. “They were delightful. They talked about how excited they were to come to campus the next day. In that 2 hours they often said, ‘We became a family out here.’” 

Students in isolation have meals delivered three times a day, and laundry service is arranged, Maddy said. On campus, the Meadowlark housing unit is for isolation and students there can also be outside sometimes. It’s not ideal, she admitted. “Athletes are concerned about not being able to go to the weight room,” for example.

Simmons said she has also been talking to high schools, where some students are able to take classes for dual high school and college credits. “Our programs started on the 12th,” Simmons said. But, “high school students could start when they needed to.”

We have a bunch of 17-19-year-olds we’re relying on to make good decisions.
Mike Johnson, Chairman of the Barton Board of Trustees

Barton Community College Trustees meeting at a glance

Here are the highlights of Tuesday’s Barton Community College Board of Trustees meeting:

• Peter Solie gave the Faculty Council report.

• Charles Perkins, dean of institutional effectiveness, gave the strategic planning report.

• Staff members reported on Cougar Driven, the mission name for Barton’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The following new personnel were approved: Jennifer Stevenson, custodian; and Cathy Smith, instructor and coordinator of medical support programs, both at the Barton County campus; Brian Forshee and John Mears, instructors of military programs at the Ft. Riley Campus; and Esau Giron-Ramos, customer service representative at the Ft. Riley Campus. All instructors will be contract employees.