Family catches COVID-19 during 2-day trip to KU; health experts worried about college spread

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — College campuses are hot spots for COVID-19 right now, and there’s concern the problem will spill into the surrounding communities and beyond.

The Egea family was at the University of Kansas dropping off their son Nicholas for his junior year. They got home to Chicago with much more than fond family memories.

“The body ache was really bad, but the migraine put it over the top,” said Fernando Egea, who was on day 9 of a COVID-19 infection Thursday.

After just 48 hours in Lawrence, Egea and his wife Sue both brought home the unwanted memento. His son and five roommates are also sick with it. The virus was passed along by one of the boys.

“We were kind of apprehensive at first because Kansas being a hot state at the time,” Egea said of their hesitation. “So we thought, ‘Well, why not? We’ll just be played safe.'”

Egea works for a large national health care technology company and knows more than most about the dangers of COVID-19. From the beginning, he’s insisted his family take recommended precautions to protect from the virus.

“I even made it into a game where I told my wife and my son, ‘We’re in a race to see if we can get to the vaccine before we get to COVID,” Egea said. “But nobody’s perfect.”

It was disappointing news for health officials trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“I regret that it happened,” Lawrence Douglas County Health Director Dan Partridge said. “That’s not the image, that’s not the persona that we want to have as a community.”

But it’s an image many college towns have right now.

Douglas and Riley counties in Kansas and Boone County in Missouri have all seen a more than 75% increase in cases since students began returning to campus. In Douglas County alone, the number of COVID-19 cases has more than doubled in the last month since students began returning to KU..

“I guess my fear would be that already, we’re kind of seeing fraying at the edges of the tolerance of these these restrictions,” Partirdge said.

The return-to-school spike is greater than the Fourth of July spike that shut down bars. Officials say 18- to 24-year-olds are the culprits. While bars are still technically closed, it’s a law with no teeth. Many bars serving food can get around the mandate.

“Your meal shouldn’t be a Bud Light,” Partirdge said. “But you need to look like a restaurant patron. (People) need to act like they’re in a restaurant.”

Late Thursday, Partidge added restrictions to the mandate that say in a restaurant, people must wear masks, social distance and not mingle. Now, any establishment that serves alcohol must stop serving at 9 p.m. and close by 10 p.m.

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