The number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase sharply in Centre County, particularly at Penn State and in the neighboring State College area.
There are 578 confirmed and probable cases in Centre County, up from 538 Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health. Thursday’s 40-case increase is second only to the 47-case spike Wednesday, the largest seen in the county since the pandemic began.
The county’s numbers by zip code include:
187 confirmed and 18 probable cases in the 16801 zip code, up from 162 confirmed and 18 probable Wednesday.
35 confirmed cases in the 16802 zip code, Penn State’s University Park campus, up from 26.
62 confirmed and 6 probable cases in the 16803 zip code, up from 60 confirmed and 6 probable.
Together, the three zip codes account for 36 of the 40-case increase in Centre County.
Cases have been increasing at a faster rate since the return of Penn State students for the fall semester. The university has outlined steps it is taking to control and track the coronavirus, including testing, isolating and quarantining.
Zack Moore, Penn State’s vice president for government and community relations, said during the school board’s Wednesday meeting that as of Tuesday, 23 students were in isolation and 26 in quarantine.
He said case numbers are expected to rise when the university updates its COVID-19 dashboard Friday.
The university, he said, brought back approximately 35,000 students to the community.
“But we have sought to de-densify campus, communicate consistently and aggressively, test thoroughly and quarantine and isolate all that are required,” Moore said. “So far we believe that the plan is working, despite the number of cases that are coming. That is to some degree to be expected.”
The university updates its dashboard twice a week. In response to a question, Moore said there are no current plans to update it more frequently, but doing so is not out of the question. He said data entry is not automated.
Wednesday’s increase in cases led the State College Area school board to a 5-4 vote to cancel classes Friday, allowing the district time to collect and analyze the case numbers over the holiday weekend.
Maciej Boni, an epidemiologist at Penn State who has been advising the school district, said at the school board meeting that the district should be cautious if rates of COVID-19 continue their rise over the next few days.
“If the numbers stay at the same level -- if it’s 50 cases a day, 30 cases a day through Friday, through Saturday, Sunday -- then Tuesday is not safe. And I wouldn’t, at that point, I definitely wouldn’t recommend exposing people to what at that point would be near-certain community transmission by next Tuesday.”
Statewide, there are 136,771 cases of COVID-19, an increase since Wednesday of 1,160.