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Letter from the Editor: Big Shoes Dropping

by on July 02, 2020 9:14 AM

The news was delivered with little fanfare on a quiet Sunday evening, June 14. But its impact is huge.

Penn State leaders announced that the university will resume in-person classes for the fall semester, which begins August 24. After a hiatus that stretches to the weekend of March 6 – when spring break started days before the nation largely ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic – students will be returning en masse to State College.

Penn State’s announcement was the second big shoe to drop locally as Centre County emerges from quarantine. The first was the decision by Governor Tom Wolf, backed by county commissioners after some debate, to allow the county to move to the “green” phase of reopening on May 29.

Penn State’s decision to resume in-person classes will obviously have an enormous economic impact on a community that relies heavily on the business generated by students, staff, and visitors. A fall without students – on top of a lost spring – would be devastating for many businesses.

Of course, economics are just one consideration. Many have expressed deep concern about the potential public health impact of 40,000-plus students heading back into town from locales around the state and beyond.

There’s no doubt that’s a situation that will have to be closely monitored. The university is taking steps to address health concerns on campus, but has little control over the behavior of thousands of students downtown.

The plan for campus includes social distancing, masking, modifications to indoor spaces, and holding classes of more than 250 students online only. In-person classes will end at the Thanksgiving break, November 20. The remainder of fall classes, including final exams, will take place online until the semester ends December 18. Then it’s on to winter break before spring classes are scheduled to begin January 11.

Penn State’s decision to hold in-person classes this fall is in line with most other Big Ten schools. As of mid-June, all but Illinois, Michigan, and Rutgers had announced similar plans. Of those three, only Rutgers – in hard-hit New Jersey – seemed in question.

That brings us to the next big shoe that had yet to drop as of mid-June: football season. Assuming there is football in the fall, will fans be permitted to attend games at Beaver Stadium (and therefore, fill the area’s hotels, restaurants, and shops)? And if so, how many?

There are no easy answers in this time of uncertainty. Just more shoes to land on the floor above.

 

 

Mark Brackenbury

Editorial Director

[email protected]

 

 

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