Penn State Reports 458 More COVID-19 Cases Among Students
September 15, 2020 4:00 PM
by Geoff Rushton
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Penn State on Tuesday reported 458 more COVID-19 cases among students attending the University Park campus, a combination of weekend testing results and additional results from the previous seven days that had been pending.

The new cases bring the campus's total to 1,146 since Aug. 7, including one employee case, according to Penn State's updated COVID-19 dashboard.. However, a university news release said 477 students who tested positive have completed their isolation and are no longer considered active cases.

Penn State President Eric Barron said the university does not currently plan to pause in-person instruction.

“We continue to monitor many factors beyond our daily testing results, including local hospitalizations, spread from our student body to employees and the community, and our quarantine and isolation capacity, among many others,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “At this time, these variables remain in our favor and we can continue our on-campus activities.”

Centre County has two COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Tuesday morning, according to Department of Health data. 

The county is Pennsylvania's biggest current hotspot for new COVID-19 cases, with the state's highest incidence rate last week at 255.5 cases per 100,000 people, more than triple the next closest county. According to a New York Times report on Tuesday, State College is fifth in the country for metro areas with the fastest rising number of COVID-19 cases on a population-adjusted basis. 

Since Sept. 1, Centre County has added 958 new cases, about twice as many as it had in the months of March through August. The vast majority of new cases have been in the State College and University Park zip codes and have largely been tied to Penn State student testing.

The county also is now in what DOH and the Department of Education term the "substantial," or highest level of community transmission. The extreme spike in cases caused State College Area School District to move to remote learning this week and last.

On Tuesday, Centre County reported a single-day record 212 new cases.

For Penn State's newly reported cases, on-demand student testing from Friday through Sunday yielded 100 positives out of 371 completed tests. Another 377 are awaiting results. Random screening during the weekend had no positive results out of 552 completed tests, with another 221 results still pending.

For the week of Sept. 4-10, an additional 358 positive results were reported from tests that had still been awaiting results at the time of Penn State's last update on Friday. Those included 310 from on-demand testing and 48 from random screening.

In total for Sept. 4-10, the campus had 647 positives out of 6,367 completed tests, with another 89 results still pending. Those included:

On-demand student testing: 570 positives from 3,078 completed tests; 13 tests awaiting results

Random student screening: 76 positives from 3,123 completed tests; 75 tests awaiting results

Random employee screening: 1 positive from 166 completed tests; 1 test awaiting results

Students who test positive are placed in isolation and individuals identified through contact-tracing must remain in quarantine for 14 days from last contact with an infected individual. According to the dashboard, 108 students are in on-campus isolation and 59 are in quarantine. In previous releases, the university said all impacted students isolate or quarantine on-campus, at home or in a single-occupancy residence off campus.

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Monday urged college students to follow mitigation guidelines, noting that the state has seen sharp increases in the number of cases among people ages 19-24. In the north-central region, where Penn State University Park and several other colleges are located, positives among that age group have increased from 7% of cases in April to 69% of cases this month.

Barron also implored the university community on Tuesday to abide by the public health measures.

“I know this is a difficult time, but it’s imperative that everyone in our community continues to practice the required health and safety precautions, including wearing a mask, socially distancing and avoiding large gatherings,” he said. “Socialize with your roommates or a very small number of friends who are diligently following guidelines, and take advantage of our organized Student Affairs activities that provide for proper masking and distancing. We can do more to reduce the number of positives and must take the threat of this virus seriously.”

He added that the university has been in communication with state health and education officials about the rise in cases.

“I had a productive call this afternoon with the Pennsylvania secretaries of Health and Education, to provide an update on Penn State’s University Park numbers, and our planning, monitoring and mitigation processes,” he said. “They are, of course, closely following Centre County’s prevalence rates, and university numbers, and pledged their support and assistance in our efforts.”

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