One In 10 Penn State Students Who Returned To State College Has Now Had COVID-19

Oct 20, 2020

More than one in 10 Penn State University Park students who returned to State College for the fall semester has now had COVID-19, a WPSU analysis finds. 

Since Aug. 7, when Penn State began tracking COVID-19 testing, 3,538 University Park students have tested positive, according to the university’s dashboard update Tuesday. That’s roughly 10% of the 35,000 students that Penn State has estimated returned to live on the University Park campus or in the State College area this fall. Penn State Vice President for Government and Community Relations Zack Moore shared that estimate with the State College Area School District Board of Directors during a Sept. 2 meeting.

At the beginning of the semester, Penn State announced it planned to randomly test 1% of all students, faculty and staff across all campuses each day -- about 700 tests each day. A WPSU analysis finds the university has performed a daily average of 655 random surveillance tests between Aug. 21, the Friday before fall classes started, and Oct. 18, the last day included on the latest dashboard update.

“The university is randomly selecting more than 1% of the on-campus population for mandatory random testing, however students are excused from the surveillance testing for several reasons, including that they have switched to fully remote learning,” university spokesperson Wyatt DuBois wrote. 

DuBois noted that Penn State leaders have previously voiced concerns about some students not taking the random tests as they were required to. 

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force met with Penn State leadership last week and said what the university is doing in terms of testing and contact tracing “is working.” But she said more could be done.

“I would always be happy if we had 100% of students tested weekly, because I think testing changes behavior,” Birx said. 

Penn State President Eric Barron said last week that he’s “cautiously pleased” to see a steady decline in the number of students who tested positive from both on-demand and random testing. 

Spokesperson DuBois said the university is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to receive a portion of the first allotment of COVID-19 rapid antigen test kits being distributed by the commonwealth.

Kelly Wolgast, director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center, said the community needs to remain vigilant as the state government warns of a fall resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

“The next month is critical as we are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 increase in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Wolgast said. “As temperatures grow colder and we enter flu season, we need to do all we can to prevent us from facing both COVID-19 and influenza.”