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As Departure Testing Increases Before Break, Penn State Reports 114 New COVID-19 Cases at University Park

by on November 20, 2020 3:39 PM

With the in-person portion of Penn State's fall semester concluding on Friday, the university reported 114 new COVID-19 cases among University Park students, along with a record number of overall tests, in its semi-weekly update on Friday.

Thousands of students have undergone voluntary departure testing prior to leaving for Thanksgiving break. When classes resume on Dec. 1, they will be remote through the end of the semester.

The new positives reported in the university's updated COVID-19 dashboard bring the campus community's total to 4,616 since Aug. 7, including 29 employee cases. Of those, 324 are considered active.

All new student positives reported on Friday were from testing the week of Nov. 13-19, bringing the week's total to 166 out of 6,098 completed on-demand and random screening tests. Another 5,596 on-demand tests are still awaiting results.

On-demand tests include voluntary departure tests, which the university encouraged students to get prior to leaving for break to limit the spread of the virus among their families and home communities. 

Since Nov. 12, 13,101 University Park students have completed departure testing, with 165 positive results received thus far. Departure tests were offered through Thursday

The university is urging students who test positive to isolate on campus or in a single-occupancy space off campus before leaving for Thanksgiving break, or if they do choose to return home to take appropriate precautions to self-isolate.

According to the updated dashboard, 48 students are currently in on-campus isolation and 31 are in on-campus quarantine. 

Penn State plans to return to in-person classes for the spring semester the week of Jan. 18. If that holds, the university's plans for pre-arrival testing are not yet know.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Tuesday announced several targeted mitigation measures as cases and hospitalizations across Pennsylvania continue to surge.

Among those are recommendations for for colleges and universities, which include testing all students at the beginning of each semester, when returning to campus after a break and to have regular screening testing throughout the semester.

Prior to the start of the fall semester, the university did not require testing of all students, but instead performed targeted testing of about 23,000 students coming to campus from COVID-19 hotspots. Penn State has conducted random screening throughout the semester.

Cases in Centre County surged in September and the first half of October, corresponding to the return and testing of Penn State students. New positives slowed in the region from mid-October into November, but have begun to climb again over the past week. Centre County had 91 new cases on Friday.

Of significant concern, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased substantially. Mount Nittany Medical Center has a record-high 27 COVID-19 inpatients, ages 31 to 94 as of Friday morning and has admitted 70 since the start of November, with an average of daily census of 18. In October, the hospital admitted 58 COVID patients had an average of 11 COVID inpatients per day. In September, 16 COVID patients were admitted for the entire month.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country and the increased numbers we are seeing in our own community are certainly a cause for concern," Mount Nittany Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nirmal Joshi said in a statement.

Joshi urged community members to wear a mask, wash their hands, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

"Our outstanding team is doing everything possible to care for the increasing number of COVID patients while also providing access for those who need general medical or surgical care," he said. "At the same time, we need your help and are asking everyone to do their part and take precautions that reduce the spread of the virus. This is especially important during holiday season – a time when we would normally be traveling and gathering with loved ones. If appropriate preventive measures are not consistently followed, concerns are that cases may rise further around the holidays."

Centre County has had 33 deaths attributed to the virus, ranging in age from 62 to 104, and two-thirds of those have occurred in the past month.

Cases at county nursing and personal care homes also have increased substantially over the past month, with 223 new positives among residents since Oct. 20. A total of 13 long-term care facilities in the county have had a combined 304 resident cases and 69 employee cases.

The county's positivity rate over the past week, however, has decreased, likely as a result of the spike in Penn State student testing and increased use of the county's free COVID-19 testing site at the Nittany Mall. 

For the past week, Centre County's positivity rate was 6.4%, fifth lowest in the state and down from 8.4% the previous week, according to DOH's updated early-warning monitoring dashboardThe statewide positivity rate for the last seven days was 11.1%.

Centre County's incidence rate was 31st among Pennsylvania's 67 counties at 283.8 cases per 100,000 people, up from 264.7 the week of Nov. 6-12.

The percentage of emergency department visits for COVID-like illness declined from 2.1% to 1.2%.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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