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K-State News

K-State News
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Tackling COVID-19: K-Staters taking on the challenge to help locally and globally

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


Supplies from labs across Kansas State University to help state and local efforts to fight COVID-19. Helping collect the items is 1st Lt. Don Mansker of the Kansas Civil Air Patrol. | Download this photo.


MANHATTAN — Kansas State University faculty and staff have been helping local and state efforts to battle COVID-19 by contributing their time and expertise as well as university resources.

"As the state's land-grant university, it is K-State's mission to serve our state, nation and world, so it's not surprising to see how K-Staters have stepped up to take on this fight," said Richard Myers, K-State president. "Whether in the lab, helping in the community or connecting people globally, K-State is making a difference."

In the battle against COVID-19:

• K-State faculty members are working at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to help with COVID-19 testing at the department's laboratory in Topeka.

• Labs and colleges across K-State have contributed more than 60,000 items of critical personal protective equipment, or PPE, to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and the Riley County Emergency Operations Center to distribute to health care professionals at the state and county levels. The items include 58,500 gloves and nearly 1,600 N95 masks. Other contributions include lab coats, testing equipment and safety goggles.

Serving the state

The state made the request for KDHE lab assistance to employees at Kansas Board of Regents universities who are experienced with laboratory procedures. Since these university employees are also all state of Kansas employees, they are allowed to provide qualified services to other state agencies in times of emergencies and are reimbursed. The K-Staters are assisting with logging samples, record-keeping and other routine work so that the trained KDHE staff can focus on the critical work of running COVID-19 tests.

Among the K-Staters at the KDHE lab are Rob DeLong, associate professor of anatomy and physiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Mark Haub, professor and head of the food, nutrition, dietetics and health department in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

"This is a public health crisis, it's an emergency, so if you have the training and are able to work with these samples and do the work, that's what you're called to do," DeLong said. "You're called to serve. You have the training and you owe it to your country, to your colleagues, your friends, your state, your neighbors. That's how I felt."

Haub said his service means full-time employees of the lab can get a needed day or two off.

"KDHE employees have been working nonstop for several weeks, so by having fill-in workers, it allows them some time off with their families and to get a break from their high-stress work," he said.

K-State labs also have contributed PPE for health care workers locally and at the state level. The contributions are from colleges, departments and units from across campus. Included in the contributions are testing equipment — reagents and kits — that researchers from K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall shared with the KDHE to expand its COVID-19 testing capacity.

"Working with the state, our local Emergency Operations Center leadership and our health providers on campus, we are coordinating contributions of supplies and talent from our research labs to prepare for and meet this crisis head on," said Peter Dorhout, vice president for research. "I'm proud of our K-State Strong community."

One Health

Tools needed to treat animals can help save human lives, which is why the College of Veterinary Medicine is doing what it can to help during the pandemic. Bonnie Rush, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said U.S. Department Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has asked that those in the veterinary profession and at veterinary colleges share resources with local health organizations in the effort to contain COVID-19.

"Secretary Perdue and the American Veterinary Medical Association developed recommendations for veterinarians to help in this national fight," Rush said. "We are fortunate to have a teaching hospital, veterinary diagnostic laboratory and research labs with skilled personnel who use common tools for human medicine. I am grateful for the creativity and commitment demonstrated by students, faculty and staff to contribute resources and time to this fight."

Along with College of Veterinary Medicine faculty working at the KDHE lab in Topeka, the college also has made some needed contributions to two local health care facilities.

"We have donated N95 masks to Lafene Health Center and Dr. Dave Hodgson, professor of veterinary anesthesia, prepared needed equipment to transfer a state-of-the-art ventilator to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan," said Elizabeth Davis, interim director of the K-State Veterinary Health Center.

K-State's lab assistance, PPE and lab testing equipment contributions are being coordinated by Marty Vanier, director of the National Agriculture Biosecurity Center and associate director of the Biosecurity Research Institute.

Helping locally

Several K-Staters are providing assistance locally in the fight against the virus.

• Kyle Goerl, medical director at Lafene and a sports medicine and family physician, serves on the executive committee of the MHK COVID-19 Clinical Task Force. This physician-driven group from the Manhattan community came together to address various community needs as they relate to COVID-19 in coordination with the Riley County Health Department, Riley County Emergency Operations Center and local hospitals.

"Various needs we are working to address include the drive-through testing clinic, alternative clinic options for patients with concern for COVID-19, the community hotline, housing needs for people who may have the disease and for those with positive cases, and the collection and distribution of PPE," Goerl said.

• Mark Weiss, professor of anatomy and physiology, is taking the COVID-19 fight to the air as a lieutenant colonel in the Kansas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, which has been called to duty by the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. Starting March 20, the Kansas Wing began transporting critical laboratory specimens from rural and remote areas to the division's laboratory in Topeka.

"The Civil Air Patrol was tasked to provide transportation of samples, kits, etc.," Weiss said. "I performed one transportation mission where I took processing kits from Manhattan to the State Department of Health lab in Topeka."

Going global

K-State's efforts also have global reach through its cyber land-grant university leadership and research.

• Two free online forums created by K-State are helping educators and even parents around the nation and world with the transition to remote learning. In its first few weeks, the  Keep Teaching: Resources for Higher Ed, created by K-State Global Campus, had more than 1,500 people involved from across the U.S. and from more than 15 countries. Joining this forum is one created by the College of Education for P-12 education, the Remote Learning P-12 community.

• When it comes to treatments for COVID-19, K-State research is on the job. The university has licensed a technology that may lead to the production of an antiviral drug to treat coronaviruses and noroviruses.


Peter Dorhout

Bonnie Rush

Written by

Joe Montgomery

Erin Pennington