Manhattan High experiences case spike amidst protocol changes

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

As the Omicron wave hits Riley County USD 383 is feeling the effects, reinstituting the mask mandate before school began second semester, shutting down due to lack of staff on Friday, Jan. 14 and setting record case numbers in recent weeks.

MHS East and West campuses reported 81 COVID-19 cases between students and staff since winter break, far exceeding the number reported during last winter’s peak. As a result of the increased cases, the nurse’s office has administered about 28 rapid tests per day – 197 total – between Jan. 4 and Jan. 13, making a 41% positivity rate. Riley County is also seeing a spike in metrics: 1,017 active cases and 18 current hospitalizations.

“It’s just really contagious,” MHS West nurse Robin Mall said. “[I would encourage] good health hygiene habits. Wash your hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth… Try to wash your hands after you touch surfaces where many other people have touched, like when you’re filling up your car with gas when you’re using your debit card and you have to punch the buttons on the machine.”

Amidst the dramatic increase in cases, quarantine rules are increasingly complicated. Because of a decrease in antibodies over time after vaccination, people who had their second COVID-19 shot more than five months ago – before Aug. 16 at time of writing – are considered unvaccinated, and must quarantine if they are a close contact. However, anyone over the age of 12 who had their second dose more than five months ago is encouraged to get a COVID-19 booster, available at local pharmacies, which will qualify them as vaccinated and prevent them from needing to quarantine unless they show symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the booster for people 12+ as it “will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant,” according to a CDC press release on Jan. 5. Quarantine times have also recently been decreased to five days, meaning students can come back to school if they test negative on day six. 

“There’s a lot of confusion [around quarantines],” Mall said. “If a student is notified… that they need to quarantine if that student has any questions, I am happy to help. I can look up their vaccination status, I can answer any questions you know, I can answer any of their parents’ questions.”