With the start of classes at Fort Hays State University just underway this week, Ellis County officially now has 26 active COVID-19 cases. That’s up from 13 on Wednesday.


The county gained 12 new cases as of Friday, according to the latest data from the Ellis County Health Department.


"Several people who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 attended house parties and visited bars in Hays on Friday, 8/14/2020, and Saturday, 8/15/2020," said a joint press release from the health department and FHSU. "Congregating at parties and in bars increases your risk of becoming infected and accelerates community spread."


In a Friday letter to FHSU faculty and staff, FHSU President Tisa Mason said the university’s Student Health Center has identified 21 positive cases of COVID-19 among the on-campus community.


The FHSU count includes not only students living on campus or in the community, but also includes students living elsewhere and taking classes online or traveling in from adjacent counties, said Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy. All students were offered the FHSU free testing.


Online students living outside Ellis County and students attending classes on campus but living in other counties are not counted in Ellis County’s case numbers, Kennedy said. Case count protocols are established by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.


"All are now isolating at locations off campus," Mason wrote, without noting if FHSU has taken advantage of its earlier plan to buy blocks of local hotel space for isolating students.


"Individuals who have been identified as possibly having been exposed to the virus are following our quarantine procedures. We continue to work closely with the Ellis County Health Department and Hays Med in our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus."


The Ellis County release went on to say that people who participated in either of the bar or house party activities between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 14 and Saturday, Aug. 15, may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.


"You are directed to monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days," said the joint release.


The county’s 7-day average percent of positives has gone from 6.46% with Wednesday’s report, to 11.47% with Friday’s report.


The health department is asking anyone with symptoms to isolate immediately. Residents should contact their health care provider or the Hays Med COVID Hotline at 877-261-7140.


Any Fort Hays State University student should contact the FHSU Student Health Center at 785-628-4293.


Kennedy offered the reminder that anyone getting a COVID-19 test, whether they are sick with symptoms or not, must strictly isolate from others until the results of the test come back. Tests at local medical offices are generally coming back in 24 to 36 hours, he said, or occasionally 48 hours.


Anyone already in mandated quarantine as the result of health department contact tracing to a known positive case, must remain in quarantine the full 14 days, Kennedy said. That’s the case even if their test comes back negative during quarantine, he said.


When the quarantine runs its course, and if symptoms haven’t developed, they will be released by the health department, said Kennedy.


The health department reports numbers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in coordination with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.