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Centre County schools, Penn State and Mount Nittany Medical push ahead as COVID cases climb

Signage for a COVID-19 collection site in State College, Pa.
Min Xian
In this file photo, a sign points to a COVID-19 testing collection site.

As Pennsylvania continues to see record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, schools in central Pennsylvania are seeing rising numbers of cases and Penn State is reporting an increased positivity rate.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is reporting a record 7,149 hospitalizations statewide Tuesday. There are 22,245 new cases in Tuesday's update, down from a high of 33,650 new cases Saturday. There are a total of 2,316,537 cases statewide, according to the department's dashboard.

Centre County also recorded a record-high increase in COVID cases Saturday — 358.

Michael Pipe, chairman of the Centre County Commissioners, said COVID continues to affect the county, including its hospital. Mount Nittany Medical Center is still treating high levels of patients with COVID-19.

“That affects their ability to do their emergency department, their emergency room. It affects the ability to do the care they give to folks on a walk-in basis, on the basis of scheduled surgeries," Pipe said.

Mount Nittany Health resumed elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay "on a limited basis," Monday. In its announcement, Mount Nittany noted that people who go to the emergency room might still have to wait longer than normal.

“We are coming out from the holiday period, and we do expect case numbers to remain elevated in the coming weeks and potentially increase even more,” Upendra Thaker, chief medical officer, said. “Schools and universities are returning from winter break which will likely lead to continued community spread.”

Some school districts are seeing jumps in case numbers among students after the winter break. In an update during Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said 106 students were absent due to COVID — 57 were COVID-positive and 59 were close contacts.

As of Tuesday, neighboring Penns Valley is reporting 50 active cases, 43 in students. Other close contacts have had to quarantine.

Superintendent Brian Griffith said the district began to see the increase after the holidays. He said they’ve signed up for the state’s “Test to Stay” program, which keeps students and staff in school even if they may have been exposed to COVID — if they test negative.

“The preponderance of our students and our families want to have students in school, in person, and that’s where we want to do too," Griffith said.

Another variable added this week was the start of Penn State’s spring semester Monday. In a news release, the university pointed to the Omicron variant for an increased rate of COVID-positive tests.

The university reported a COVID positivity rate of 16.1% among students at University Park for Jan. 3-6, and a rate of 9.1% among employees tested.

“We anticipated that our positive case counts and positivity rates would increase given the rise in COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania and nationally due to the Omicron variant,” Kelly Wolgast, director of the Penn State COVID-19 Operations Control Center, said in a news release. “At this time, we are seeing lower testing volume overall due to the university’s winter break; however, those who are seeking testing are usually either symptomatic or they are asymptomatic but have been exposed to the virus. As expected, this has resulted in a higher positivity rate.”

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.