Your Turn: The power of collaboration

Last March the pandemic caused institutions of higher education to empty their cam-puses overnight and remain that way through the summer. This had a major financial impact on the institutions but also on their communities — and KU and Lawrence were no exception.

Many small businesses in Lawrence rely heavily on KU students as employees. Addi-tionally, these businesses rely on a consumer base that includes KU faculty and staff, as well as alumni and families who gather in Lawrence for events like move-in day, athletic competitions, homecoming, music performances and graduation. In other words, KU is the economic engine that drives the community.

As we approach the end of the fall semester, it is worth reflecting on how the city, coun-ty, business community and KU came together to safely bring students back to Lawrence in a way that prioritized community health while also sustaining the Lawrence economy.

During the summer, Lawrence businesses learned to adapt to measures required to operate safely. Public health leadership took action after seeing a surge in cases from large gatherings in public venues. Working with The Chamber, the restaurant association, and county and city leadership, previously closed businesses were able to reopen with safety precautions as case numbers were managed.

KU, with the help of LMH Health and the University of Kansas Health System, was able to use federal relief dollars to perform mass entry testing for students, faculty and staff in August and provide isolation and quarantine space for students to minimize immediate spread. After the initial spike, ongoing prevalence testing and aggressive symptomatic testing and tracing enabled us to decrease the positivity rates. When a small number of off-campus student social gatherings became an obvious health concern, the city, county and university again came together to identify an ordinance that would allow enforcement of county gathering restrictions.

While incredibly challenging, this fall semester at KU has been remarkably successful and stands out among the best success stories in higher education during this pandemic. Thanks to KU’s ability to reopen campus in a safe way, we have been able to sustain crucial economic activity and preserve jobs across the community.

Again, this success story was made possible due to the close partnership of the university, city and county leadership and the business community. That is the power of collaboration.

— Bonnie Lowe is the president and CEO of The Chamber of Lawrence.


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