Health officials worry KU virus cases could spread to Lawrence community

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — College campuses in both Kansas and Missouri are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 cases since students began returning to school last month.

Health experts warn spread into the community is a real danger, and it’s just beginning.

Officials say 18- to 24-year-olds are the population driving the infection rate up. COVID-19 cases in Douglas County have doubled in the last month.

“That’s a product of students returning to school,” said Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence Douglas County Health Department. “You know, each University of Kansas student was required to get tested at the beginning of the school year, and the positivity rate was highest in fraternities and sororities by a good margin.”

Fernando Egea and his wife Sue spent 48 hours in Lawrence, dropping their son Nicholas off for his Junior year at KU. Both went home with COVID-19.

“Yesterday, it was like 11. I mean, it was horrible. That migraine, it was awful. Outside of that, I’d say about a seven,” Egea said of how he’d rate his symptoms on a scale from one to 10.

He’s on day 9 of his infection. His son and five roommates are also sick with the virus. The virus was passed along by one of the boys.

“I think that’s where we let our guard down,” Egea said. “I felt comfortable. I’m like, all these guys are fine. I don’t think they’ve been out in the riffraff with with other people with COVID-19 — and lo and behold.”

People who live in Lawrence are afraid the could experience the same fate.

“I live in a apartment complex downtown here where there’s a lot of students,” Patrick Schuetz said. “As I go through the building and touch the boxes in the package delivery and the elevator buttons, I’m curious about whether or not anything is being spread around there.”

Partridge is closely watching the transmission rate and hospitalizations to try and minimize the virus’s effect on the community. He doesn’t know when, but fears Douglas County may hit critical mass.

While bars have already been ordered closed in Lawrence, late Thursday, Partridge tightened restrictions to avoid hitting that critical mass. Adding to the mask mandate and social distancing protocols, any establishment that serves alcohol must stop at 9 p.m. and close by 10 p.m.

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