While the nation grapples with a growing number of COVID-19 cases, Franklin County higher-education institutions are continuing to keep close tabs on the disease’s spread.


"Right now, we’re being as proactive as possible in asking everyone to follow CDC guidelines in terms of hygiene and travel," said Brian Inbody, president of Neosho County Community College. "It’s a tense situation, but we will get through it in a way that keeps everyone safe and accomplishes our educational mission."


Inbody said the school is exploring all options in the face of emergence of the coronavirus in Kansas. Kansas Health Department officials had reported six cases of coronavirus in the state as of Friday morning.


For the moment, neither NCCC nor Ottawa University has plans to alter spring semester scheduling. Spring break for both schools is next week.


"At this point, we are in level 1 of our response plan, which is the readiness stage," Inbody said. "We are not planning to change our spring break times or schedules at this time, short of an actual confirmed case in the region. However, that might change in the weeks ahead as we communicate with local health authorities and the Kansas Department of Health.


"We have been selectively limiting some out of state travel to areas that have a large number of reported coronavirus cases."


Ottawa University residential campus leadership has also been discouraging travel to affected areas.


"The university has implemented preventative protocols in areas such as dining services, residence halls, and other facilities," said Reggies Wenyika, OU residential campus president. "Heightened monitoring of our athletic teams’ schedules and travel is being carried out to ensure the safety of our students, and changes will be made if warranted."


Wenyika said the school is well-positioned to avoid a disruption in the delivery of curriculum.


"Should a disruption to our ability to provide instruction through the face-to-face modality, OU will deliver its curriculum to students remotely without altering the current course schedule," he said.


Inbody reported the school is also prepared to continue spring semester classes online if needed, though the nature of some classes would make the switch difficult.


"We are preparing our faculty so that, if we were asked to (limit physical classes), it could happen rapidly," he said. "Some of our vocational and career-technical classes — welding, constructions, and similar classes — present more of a challenge. Those obviously don’t translate well to online. We’ll evaluate options for our more lab-based classes on a case by case basis as the need arises."


Both institutions remain ready to absorb and disseminate information regarding COVID-19.


"A task force for the Ottawa campus is diligently reviewing all national and regional health alerts, and university representatives are coordinating efforts with Franklin County emergency response partners," Wenyika said. "Through our campus health services center, we disseminated information to students on precautionary measures for avoiding contracting the viruses, and additional information on travel during the break will be provided next week."