Penn State’s COVID-19 Cases Reported Last Week Nearly Double As More Results Come In, New Total 433

Sep 8, 2020

Penn State has 433 total positive coronavirus test results university-wide, according to Tuesday’s update to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. The increase came from new cases added over the Labor Day weekend and from test results coming in from the previous weeks. 

Penn State said it added 163 positive test results to the dashboard for the week of Aug. 28 to Sept. 3. That brings the current total for University Park campus for that time period to 260 positives for on-demand testing and 77 positives for random screening testing, nearly doubling last Friday’s update.  

On Friday, the total for last week was announced at 174 cases; the update brings the total for the week to 337. As of Tuesday, the state Department of Health reports Centre County has 686 positive tests.

Over the Labor Day weekend, 36 University Park students who showed symptoms or were identified through contact tracing tested positive. Six others tested positive during random testing.

Tuesday’s update also included six positive on-demand testing results for the week of Aug. 28 to Sept. 3 from College of Nursing students who recently arrived in Hershey for their upcoming clinical rotation. 

Among Commonwealth campuses, Abington added one positive result from on-demand testing over the Labor Day weekend. The Behrend campus added three positives from surveillance testing in the previous week. Brandywine, Harrisburg and Shenango each added one positive in that week.

Penn State said all cases have triggered a contact tracing process. There are 149 students currently in isolation on the University Park campus and 76 are in quarantine. 

“We learned of some concerning behavior in State College, including a few large gatherings and groups socializing together on Saturday without masking and appropriate social distancing, but I was pleased to see that many of these activities were limited the rest of the weekend,” Penn State President Eric Barron said Tuesday.

Barron had warned students to avoid social gatherings last Friday and said the university might suspend in-person learning if case numbers worsen. 

“We continue to be concerned with the numbers, and we will continue to assess our status this week as the results from tests administered later in the weekend are returned. We know our community is anxious, but these data are just some of the many variables we consider every day in determining our next steps,” he said.

Governor Tom Wolf’s office said Tuesday that Centre County is now one of the two counties statewide with substantial levels of community transmission of the coronavirus. The other county is Columbia, where Bloomsburg University is located. Bloomsburg moved to remote instruction in late August, after cases spiked on campus.

Penn State announced the launch of its Testing and Surveillance Center yesterday. It will take over the random surveillance testing done on University Park students from Vault Health. The university said this in-house lab will process tests in groups of five, at least initially, to “assess what percentage of the University’s population may be infectious and to identify community trends,” according to the press release.

The university is using the first floor of the HUB Parking Deck to collect samples. Students selected for surveillance testing will use a self-administered superficial nasal swab for the test. They won’t receive individual results unless a group test result comes back positive or indeterminate. Further individual tests will follow in that case, the university said.

Tests from the center will be included on the COVID-19 dashboard once validated, the university said. That means data “is only a snapshot at one point in time and cannot be considered a final report.”

“The University has invested in staffing and significant automation of testing capabilities to increase the availability and improve turn-around time of our existing resources to meet the needs of this important surveillance testing component of the plan,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in the release. He did not specify the turn-around time on the tests.

Employee random screening will begin on Tuesday, the university announced last week.

Penn State also announced on Tuesday that it plans to continue using the four instructional modes developed for the fall semester in the spring. 

The university’s statement said instructors can decide on how they want to deliver the course -- in-person, mixed, remote synchronous or remote asynchronous -- by Sept. 25. Students will have access to the spring schedule of classes starting Sept. 28. 

“Given the evolving nature of the pandemic, the public health landscape could require that all course delivery take place remotely/online in spring 2021,” the statement said. “A decision of this nature would be made closer to the start of the spring semester.”