A decline in new COVID-19 cases at Penn State's University Park campus continued as the university reported 93 new positives among students in Friday's semi-weekly update.
The new positives reported in the university's COVID-19 dashboard update — the fewest in Penn State's last 12 testing reports — bring the the campus community's total to 3,455 since Aug. 7, including seven employee cases. However, only 334 of those are still considered active, with 3,121 having completed isolation and no longer considered active cases.
The campus added 89 new student positives for the week of Oct. 9-15 since the university's last update on Tuesday, bringing the total for the week to 135.
The total includes 129 positives from 1,245 completed on-demand tests with another 463 still awaiting results. Random screening yielded six positives from 2,389 completed tests, with 211 more still pending.
Friday's numbers also included four new positives that previously were pending from the week of Oct. 2-8. For that week, there is now a total of 439 student positives — 418 from 3,238 completed on-demand tests and 21 from 3,149 completed random screening tests.
No new employee positives from university testing were reported this week.
According to the updated dashboard, 91 students are currently in on-campus isolation and 59 are in on-campus quarantine, down from 117 and 63, respectively, on Tuesday. University Park has 250 rooms available for isolation, 150 for quarantine and another 140 available if needed. Students may also isolate and quarantine at home or if they have suitable space off-campus residence, according to the university.
Many of the newly reported university cases have likely already appeared in the Pennsylvania Department of Health's daily COVID-19 reporting for Centre County. Penn State updates its dashboard only twice a week, and the health department does not distinguish student testing results in publicly available data, so it's unclear when exactly cases have been added to the DOH totals.
“I’m cautiously pleased to see that the data are showing a continued, steady decline in the number of positive tests among students at University Park,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “Public health officials are hopeful that the numbers are declining as a result of our community embracing preventative measures like masking and social distancing. However, the data may not be reflective of the virus dissipating on campus or in the surrounding community, so we all must continue to take these measures, particularly in light of the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the commonwealth.”
Centre County has seen a downward trend in new cases corresponding with Penn State's decline.
For the first time in six weeks, Centre County did not have the highest COVID-19 incidence rate in the state over the past seven days, according to the health department's early-warning monitoring dashboard, which was updated on Friday. For the week of Oct. 9-15, the county's incidence rate was 188.0 per 100,000 people, third highest in Pennsylvania and down from 264.1 the previous week.
The county's positivity rate for the last week was 5.6%, according to the DOH dashboard, down from 7.8% and 14th in the state.
COVID-19 hospitalizations at Mount Nittany Medical Center, however, have trended higher. Since Sunday, the hospital has had 17 COVID-19 inpatients, according to Mount Nittany Health. As of Friday, 11 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, ranging in age from 52 to 92.
Mount Nittany continues to operate under the surge capacity plan activated on Oct. 9, including the rescheduling of non-essential/elective procedures and surgeries that require an overnight admission at the Medical Center.
“We’ve reached a critical point in COVID activity in our community, and we understand and share in your concern regarding the rising numbers of positive test results we seen in recent weeks," Dr. Nirmal Joshi, Mount Nittany Health chief medical officer, said in a statement. "Community members can be assured that at Mount Nittany Health, we continue to carefully observe activity both in the community and within the medical center."
Six of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized at Mount Nittany are from local nursing homes, which have seen an uptick in new cases. In the past two weeks, Centre County nursing and personal care homes have reported 17 new cases among residents and 10 among employees.
Deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Centre County also have risen in the past month. After reporting no deaths since Aug. 14, DOH has reported four among county residents in the past eight days, bringing the total to 15. The coroner's office has confirmed 11 total COVID deaths, ranging in age from 74 to 101. DOH reports deaths by county of residency, regardless of where they occur, while the coroner's office reports deaths that occur within the county.
Joshi urged community members to continue following safety precautions.
"At this time we cannot stress enough how critical it is for community members to follow safety measures to mitigate spread of the virus," he said. "In the absence of an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we must continue to practice social distancing, masking, and hand washing protocols, and stay home if not feeling well. We can help to keep ourselves and one another safe, but we must work together.”