There are five COVID-19 clusters at state colleges and universities, state health authorities announced Wednesday, with the uptick coming earlier than the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had anticipated.


While the University of Kansas is set to begin classes next Monday, other schools, including Kansas State University and Wichita State University, have already begun.


The return of students to campus means many have brought the virus with them. Statewide, KDHE reported 723 new cases since Monday, bringing the overall total to 35,890.


"It is a little earlier than what we thought it would be," KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said of the uptick in cases at a media briefing. "With an incubation period of 14 days, and some of these were found within the first week, they obviously brought them from home."


The Riley County Health Department has already confirmed 13 cases have been associated with an outbreak among the Phi Delta Theta fraternity on campus. The group’s house is being deep-cleaned, the authorities say, and fraternity leadership is in contact with county and K-State officials.


Other universities have also seen more limited cases. As part of tests conducted during the move-in process, Pittsburg State University officials identified 15 positive tests in recent days, or 1.98% of all tests conducted.


But Norman pushed back on a move that will see more fans at K-State football games.


The Riley County Commission approved a plan that would cap the number of spectators in attendance at games at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 25%.


Tailgating would not be allowed outside the stadium under the athletic department’s plan, and fans would be required to wear masks once inside, as students and visitors are currently mandated to do on campus.


"Our plan is very detailed in how we intend to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread at a football game," K-State athletic director Gene Taylor said in a statement earlier this week. "We are implementing several new policies and will be strict in our enforcement in our best efforts to accomplish playing football games safely."


Norman expressed skepticism about the plan, as well as any other schools in the state seeking to follow suit.


KU Athletics has said it expects to allow fans at Jayhawk football games in the fall but hasn’t said how many might be allowed.


"We’ve been very consistent since March talking about mass gatherings," Norman said. "Anything that is a mass gathering is going to put people at risk, there is no question about it."


Many schools have opted not to publicize how many students test positive, something that Norman said was workable as long as any outbreaks are identified and contact tracing is done.


The state doesn’t disclose the exact location of COVID-19 clusters, whether at colleges or universities or elsewhere.


"If you do really good contact tracing, it is probably better not to have people lose confidence," Norman said. "But if you can’t and you have to release information to help people feel safe, I think it would be important to do that. I think we’re all struggling a little bit with how much privacy on one end and how much general information for the public on the other."