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BC and Atchison County negotiate a COVID-19 mitigation plan
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Benedictine College and Atchison County officials have announced the “Atchison and Benedictine: Stronger Together,” an agreement for an enhanced plan addressing on-campus learning, off-campus students and athletics.

The plan, effective from Saturday to Friday, Sept. 18 is designed to offer students the freedom to live the mission of Benedictine College. The entire document is available online on the college website at www.benedictine.edu/coronovirus/safety/stronger-together.

In accordance with provisions of the plan, beginning Saturday, Sept. 5, students residing on the BC campus are not to leave campus only for the following exceptions: Scheduled or emergency medical or mental health appointments; to fulfill academic requirements; and to work or obtain essential goods like groceries, medications, household products; and to pick-up an outside order at a local business.

Abiding by the order will avoid a quarantine order restricting students to their dorm rooms and it also allows for continuation of in-person classes for eligible students.

Off-campus students are not permitted on campus except for authoritized athletic practices; religious services; work sturdy; labs; or other necessary adademic purposes.

The athletic teams that maintain no active cases may hold practic in smaller groups to be determined on a team by team basis and authorized by the athletic director. Teams wit members who re in isolation due to active COVID cases are prohibited from practicing until Saturday, Sept. 12.

The aforementioned steps are in addition to the Raven Safety Plan and updated mitigation protocols that were already in at the college prior to negotiations with Atchison County officials.

BC and Atchison County Health officials have been engaged in negotiations concerning the pandemic since Wednesday.

County health officials and BC leaders also met Thursday and Friday as part of the pending revision of a quarantine of the campus that was announced earlier in the week. However, until announcement of the agreement Friday evening it was BC business as usual throughout the negotiations.

Benedictine leaders were advised Wednesday that health officials intended to impose a quarantine on the campus where a number of COVID-19 cases have been reported among students and staff, driving up the county’s overall case count in the weeks since classes started.

Benedictine staff immediately proposed a compromise that was still under the health officials’ review late Friday afternoon, BC Public Relations Director Steve Johnson said.

The first order to go into and remain in quarantine was presented when Atchison County commissioners, the health officials and Benedictine leaders were virtually present during a special meeting Wednesday evening to discuss a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases among campus community and what to do about it.

Chief Health Officer Lori Forge, Chief Medical Adviser Bonnie Tackett and Emergency Management Director Wesley Lanter advised of a plan to put Benedictine students in quarantine for 14 days that they planned to become effective as early as 12:01 a.m. Friday, Sept. 4.

Lanter said the revised plan was not presented Thursday, and the plan did not go into effect Friday. The proposed plan stated that the students will be sequestered in isolation among their cohorts within their residential quarters, only leaving their respective areas to obtain packed meals from the cafeteria and practice religious freedom to participate in liturgical services.

On Sept. 4, Benedictine College reported 23 active COVID-19 cases on campus, 0.9% of the campus population. The active cases and new positive cases have been trending downward for the past week.

The quarantine initially was planned to become effective after midnight Thursday, Sept. 3 but was delayed a day after Benedictine President Stephen Minnis raised concerns that the plan is too restrictive and might have adverse emotional effects on the students because it would hinder their ability to attend Mass.

This could be devastating to the college, Minnis said.

Other Benedictine leaders — Linda Henry and Tom Hoopes — agreed with Minnis. The Benedictine leaders all agreed they have been implementing various steps to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. As of mid week, there were 132 students in quarantine, Minnis said, and 13 of those were in isolation at that time. The student population is about 2,000, and there are more students in the residential facilities than before, according to Henry.

The county’s health officials Dr. Bonnie Tackett, LORI Forge RN and Emergency Medical Director Wesley Lanter agreed that Benedictine’s attempts to mitigate the virus are all good efforts, but said those efforts are not working because they came too late.

Lanter said there were numerous meetings with college representatives and it was recommended that the students quarantine for 14 days after they arrived on campus. Instead it was decided that the students were to undergo their respective 14-day quarantines at their homes before their arrival to the campus.

“They should have quarantined after they got here,” Lanter said. “Now because some did not do it at home they have brought it into our community.”

Forge said as the health officer it would be negligent of her not to put this order in place in an effort to protect the health and wellness of the community as a whole during the pandemic. She said when Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order quarantined the whole county within the first months of the pandemic for two weeks there were only 10 cases.

Forge clarified that some people who previously tested positive are now showing symptoms of a mutated strain of the virus.

According to the initial order, presented to commissioners, Benedictine employees will be exempt from some of the restrictions in the order.

Mike Kuckelman and Minnis, both of whom are attorneys, commented about the legal ramifications if the order becomes effective.

Kuckelman said he was virtually present at the meeting in an individual capacity as a citizen, and he said he was disturbed by the order. He advised that students subject to the quarantine have the right to file an objection after the order becomes effective and have a hearing with 72 hours.

Plaintiffs have the right to an attorney to represent them. The court cases have the potential to cost the county a substantial amount of money, Kuckelman said.

On Thursday morning, Kuckelman said he was in the process of drafting documents for students wanting a hearing. During the hearings the county must prove the student is a risk different than the risk everyone presents, Kuckelman explained.

County Chairman Jack Bower said the commissioners have no authority to override the health officer. However, he said he would like to see some sort of a moratorium to think about the situation and find a resolution.

The Atchison Globe will have updates on the story as they come.

Log onto www.benedictine.edu to read more about the BC COVID-19 response, on the home page, click on the “Information and Resources” button and see the dashboard showing current active cases.

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HCC confirms two positive cases at off-campus locations
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Highland Community College confirmed two positive cases of COVID-19 at off-campus locations earlier this week.

On Monday, HCC announced there was one confirmed positive case at the Atchison center and one confirmed case at Wamego.

The college said contact tracers from the local health departments were reaching out to students to determine whether in close contact with the individual who tested positive.

“If you are sick, please do not attend classes,” according to the statement issued on the college’s Facebook page. “Other illnesses are also going around such as strep and stomach flu. Please for the safety of all, wear a mask.”

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MHMA celebrates return to school on heritage day
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Maur Hill-Mount Academy celebrated the students returning to school this week with the annual Heritage Day Monday.

The day consists of students splitting into four different groups having friendly competition and activities.

The four groups wear different colors to signify whether they are with St. Gabriel (red), St. George (green), St. Sebastian (orange) and St.e Teresa of Calcutta (blue).

Sarah Wise is charge of the event and she said it was truly a blessing to have the celebration this year.

“Heritage day is a great opportunity for our students to build relationships and school spirit,” Wise said. “This year was not much different but despite the circumstances due to the pandemic, It was a great to see our students in masks and be with them in person. They truly are the heart of our school.”

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Social distancing - pumpkin style!

HIAWATHA, Kan. — Plant them and people will come for the pickin’!

This has been the motto at Mulberry Pond Pumpkin Patch for the last 10 years and owners Merle and Staci Charles said they had no choice but to forge full steam ahead for the 2020 season despite concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We decided we just needed to plant the pumpkins and see what happens,” Merle said. “We thought, if anything we could set the pumpkins up by the road with a donation jar to sell.”

The planting occurred several months ago and the pumpkins are ripe and ready for the upcoming fall season at Mulberry Pond, which is located east of Hiawatha, just about a half mile south at the Mulberry Road exit. But Merle and Staci are planning more than selling pumpkins on the road — they are opening up the pumpkin patch with a few additional guidelines in place this fall.

Signs will be posted promoting social distancing and “Keeping one cow apart,” as a recommendation. She said they are not requiring masks, as all events are outdoors.

“Many people come with their own family groups,” she said. “So we don’t think we need to separate people, however we are encouraging these groups to keep their distance from others.”

The line to purchase tickets, along with laser tag, will have marked spacing between groups and they plan to have smaller groups on the wagon rides and limit the number of people inside of the gift shop. Staci said they will offer hand sanitizer at every station.

But otherwise, it’s full steam ahead with sunflowers blooming and an acre of pumpkins ready to be picked.

Life is different for Merle and Staci now — when they started Mulberry Pond as a “small pumpkin patch” and fall get away for local families 10 years ago both were busy with with jobs and spent evenings and weekends working at the pond. Staci was a middle school teacher and Merle had a busy job at Ag Partners. They had a house in town — the historic Mulberry Pond was their get away — and the couple had a dream to one day build a home there.

An old brick home sits atop the hill overlooking the pond to the south — 150 years old to be more exact. The homestead was built by John Moser (pronounced Moss-er), a masonry from Switzerland, who moved to Brown County and first lived in a log cabin — since long gone — which was located east of the pond on adjacent land owner’s property. In 1870, Moser built the two-story brick farmhouse.

Fast forward to 2020. The brick farmhouse still proudly stands at the top of the hill and has undergone many repairs thanks to handyman Merle. It now houses the Mulberry Pond Gift Shop and restrooms. On the other hill is the Charles’ dream home — built last year after Staci retired from teaching and the couple sold their house in town. They have a perfect view of the pond, which features peddle boats, canoes, a deck and slide for swimmers.

Occasionally the Charles rent out the pond and adjacent campground for family gatherings or people traveling through. Recently, one of the camp sites has been the home of a pair of local contractors staying in a camper while working locally.

The corn has turned a golden color and just northeast of the two homesteads about an acre is carved into a corn maze in preparation of this coming fall’s season. Just east is another acre full of several kinds of pumpkins — ready to be picked and sold weekends when the patch is open.

The Charles hire local high school and farm kids and help support area church youth groups and 4-H as well. Merle said it’s almost time for the season’s new and old hires to come out for their first day, which involves picking many pumpkins.

They have already had visitors at Mulberry as the Sunflower Patch has bloomed and was ready for photos. In addition to the pumpkin patch, tours around the pond on the barrel wagon or the big wagon, there are many fun adventures for the whole family that include laser tag, a playground, a variety of farm animals — including the friendly black lab Drifter, games, concessions and much more.

New this year is the story-telling stick tent — made entirely out of limbs with pumpkin vines growing up the sides. Staci said it is a great place for storytime!

“Nobody really knows what will happen — we just felt that we could still open up and offer the pumpkin patch to the community,” said Staci, noting they get groups and families, along with students and field trips, from all over Northeast Kansas as one of the few remaining pumpkin patches in the area. “As long as we are outdoors, we felt this was a pretty healthy activity to do.”

“I guess if things change and the state shuts down, then we have pumpkins for sale,” Merle added with a smile.

Opening weekend is Sept. 26-27 with Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday hours from 1-7 p.m. through Oct. 25. Find Mulberry Pond on Facebook for more information or contact numbers.