Despite COVID-19 cluster, Hesston College forges ahead

The Newton Kansan
President Joe Manickam addresses students during an opening celebration at Sieber Soccer Field at Hesston College. The college is moving some activities outside in response to COVID-19, and announced a cluster this week.

COVID-19 had forced changes to Hesston College, such as all students living on campus having a single room and athletics being moved from fall to spring semesters.

The college also, according to director of marketing Nathan Bartel, instituted a “targeted testing program.” Students and staff showing symptoms of the coronavirus will be tested for it.

On Monday afternoon, the Harvey County Health Department, in conjunction with Hesston College, confirmed a cluster of COVID-19 cases on the campus.

The first confirmed cases were found Aug. 25, with others found in the following days.

The cluster includes five confirmed cases of the coronavirus. There have been 17 individuals tested. All of those cases are students.

“Of those COVID-positive students, three have completed their isolation and are preparing to return to campus,” Bartel said. “The rest continue to isolate in off-campus locations. It is worth noting that we have also isolated two students out of precaution. Those two were evaluated ... at Newton Medical Center and it was determined those students likely had COVID-19 based on their symptoms even though their tests came back negative.”

The college has had staff members in quarantine as family members have been diagnosed with COVID-19, though no staff members have yet tested positive for the virus.

The college is requiring quarantine of exposed individuals and is performing its own contract tracing.

Bartel said the college does have plans for more widespread testing if several cases are found without a known source of infection.

“Our students, faculty and staff have done a wonderful job planning for and adapting to the challenges of reopening in the current health climate,” said Hesston College president Joe Manickam. “Our COVID response team, along with state health officials, has put tremendous effort into a rapid and comprehensive program of contact tracing to create a welcoming, successful and safe educational environment on our campus.”

The individuals have self-isolated off campus. Hesston College, along with the health department, will regularly monitor the health of the individuals, as well as identify and quarantine all close contacts.

The college utilized staggered move-in and registration days and is requiring face masks in common areas and daily self-screening.

The outdoor portions of the campus have not been closed to the public. A number of activities — such as fall drama productions, musical performances and private music lessons — have been moved outside.

Hesston implemented the restricted phase of the college’s five-level CARES Level of Concern planning rubric when the first on-campus cases were confirmed. Information and updates on Hesston College’s COVID-19 response can be found at

“Hesston College consistently communicated with the Health Department as it developed and planned for its reopening this fall,” said Harvey County Health Department director Lynnette Redington. “The college was proactive in quarantining students to prepare for in-person instruction, and remains diligent as it fulfills its action plans to aid and care for individuals isolating as a result of testing positive for COVID-19.”

Individuals positive for the coronavirus who are Harvey County residents, or who identify the college as their current place of residence, will be included in Harvey County’s COVID-19 statistics. Out-of-county individuals who are able to isolate at home will be counted in the statistics of their respective county of residence. All individuals will be included in the total count of the cluster.

On Wednesday, the county identified five more cases of the coronavirus. All of those individuals who tested positive are currently in isolation and will be monitored by the health department.

Harvey County has had 292 coronavirus cases to date, including 286 confirmed and six probable cases. There are 15 known active cases in Harvey County. Two individuals are currently hospitalized.

There have been 4,498 tests for COVID-19 conducted in Harvey County.