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Penn State announces spring semester will be in person, as state infections hit all-time high

Old Main, an administrative building and landmark of Penn State's University Park campus.
Lindsay Lazarski
Keystone Crossroads

Penn State will start the spring semester with in-person classes, the university announced in a press release Thursday night.

At the end of the fall semester, the university said it was monitoring local COVID-19 hospitalizations and the spread of the omicron variant and would be prepared to change to a remote start if necessary.

Penn State leadership said its COVID-19 Operations Control Center advised that conditions did not warrant a remote start.

“Our students, faculty and staff have a very high vaccination rate, we are testing weekly those who are not vaccinated and we are continuing to require face masks to be worn indoors,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “With these measures in place, together with hospitalization data and what we are learning about omicron, we believe we can safely, but carefully, return to on-campus classes and activities as planned.”

Vaccination rates of both students and full-time employees on the University Park campus are around 90%.

On Dec. 14, Mount Nittany Medical Center reported a high of 76 hospitalizations. On Thursday, it had 43 COVID patients.

But COVID infections are on the rise. Pennsylvania hit a single-day high for new COVID positives for the second day in a row Thursday with 19,436. Statewide infections also topped two-million.

Students are not required to get tested for COVID before returning to State College, but Penn State officials suggested they do so.

“I urge all of our students to order a free, mail-in Vault Health test kit to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus so that they can isolate at home if they are COVID-19 positive. Any student or employee can currently order up to 12 Vault Health kits for at-home use,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of the COCC.

The university announced last week that its Testing and Surveillance Center had detected the omicron variant on campus. The Centers for Disease Control says omicron may spread more easily than other variants, but vaccines are still effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

Penn State also announced it will not enforce President Joe Biden’s federal contractor vaccine mandate since it’s currently under an injunction. It had been set to require employees at all Penn State campuses to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or to receive a medical or religious accommodation by Jan. 4. Those who did not comply could have faced termination.

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.