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Penn State adds 458 more COVID-19 cases at University Park, increasing total to 2,124

Centre Daily Times logoCentre Daily Times 9/26/2020 By Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

Penn State has added 458 new COVID-19 cases among University Park students since the last dashboard update, putting Friday’s official case total at 2,124.

Based on university estimates, 1,305 cases are no longer active.

From last Friday to Thursday, according to the twice-weekly COVID-19 dashboard update, 418 students tested positive for the virus out of the 1,910 on-demand tests with results, while another 19 students tested positive out of the 2,706 random-screened tests with results.

Some 515 on-demand tests since Aug. 28 still have results pending, while another 458 random-screened tests are pending.

“It’s important for our students to know that we have the ability to test them for COVID-19 quickly and efficiently,” university President Eric Barron said in a written statement. “Any student who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or believes they may have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual can be tested on any campus.”

Some 143 University Park students are now in on-campus isolation, while another 57 are in quarantine — an overall increase from 111 and 58, respectively, on Tuesday.

Based on numbers recently released by Barron, that puts the quarantine capacity at 57% and the isolation capacity at 38%, although there are an additional 140 spaces if necessary and the university has confirmed it will seek spaces in downtown hotels if more are required.

In the meantime, several faculty-based groups would like to see more widespread testing, a move to remote learning and a greater emphasis on how the spring semester might start.

“We’re now closing out Week 5 of the semester, and our case numbers are still extremely high — in contrast to other universities that have managed to get their initial outbreaks under control by taking the responsible measures,” said Sarah Townsend, an organizer of Coalition for a Just University. “The Penn State administration needs to follow their lead by immediately ramping up testing and suspending in-person classes.”

Added Michelle Rodino-Colocino, local chapter president of the American Association of University Professors: “We’d like Penn State to take action to prevent a massive public health crisis, which means you have to take action before you see that crisis point hit.”

Barron has repeatedly pointed to three metrics as the most important in battling the pandemic: quarantine and isolation spaces, community transmission and hospital capacity. Many experts also cited community transmission and hospital capacity as the most integral, but there’s disagreement over where Centre County stands with those two points.

Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has said past increased testing positivity rates in neighboring counties suggest transmission already happened on a noticeable level. The university believes transmission is minimal and, according to testing data released by the State College Area School District, Mount Nittany Health has seen a 1.1% positivity rate since Aug. 26 from people in district ZIP codes.

Based on the state’s early warning monitoring system, which is clearly impacted by the student population, there remains cause for concern. Centre County’s overall incidence rate increased from last week’s 322.5 and the positivity rate fell slightly, but both remain the highest in the commonwealth. By far.

The monitoring system, which is updated every Friday, shows the county’s incidence rate currently stands at 350 infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days — compared to second-worst Northumberland County’s 120.8 incidence rate. Centre County’s positivity rate is also 12%, although it was at 12.1% at this time last week.

The state Department of Health last week pinpointed the county as an area of concern, and a free pop-up testing site — that can test up to 500 daily — was implemented Friday at the Nittany Mall.

“I have directed my staff to assist Centre County in identifying localized containment and mitigation efforts to reduce the spread and facilitate communications between large employers, county officials and local governments,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a written statement.

From March to mid-August, before the official Penn State student move-in, the county had 392 total cases of the coronavirus. Since then, it’s added another 1,839 cases, with most coming in the State College area.

Still, hospitalizations at the Mount Nittany Medical Center remain low for now — although they are starting to rise, according to the data. A Mount Nittany spokesperson told the CDT last weekend that it had seen just four COVID-positive patients admitted through Sept. 18 but, according to the state’s hospital preparedness dashboard, there are now five patients simultaneously hospitalized.

Dr. Nirmal Joshi, chief medical officer of Mount Nittany Health, acknowledged last weekend the low hospitalization numbers were not guaranteed to last.

“We have been extremely fortunate so far that the rapid rise in cases locally has not translated to growth of hospitalizations,” he said at the time. “However, this can change very quickly. We are gathering information and monitoring local trends daily.

“The overall growth in cases is cause for significant concern. As a community, we must absolutely work to keep our numbers from continuing to grow at this rate.”

Elsewhere at Penn State, on other campuses, the impact of COVID-19 has varied. An outbreak has occurred at Altoona, where 58 new cases have been identified just this week — the total now stands at 79 cases there — while quarantine and isolation spaces have reportedly reached capacity, with the university sending overflow students to local hotels.

Total cases at other campuses include Erie (15), Hershey (15), Harrisburg (3), Abington (2), Berks (2), Brandywine (2), Hazleton (2), New Kensington (1), Schuylkill (1) and Scranton (1).

One Penn State employee so far, at University Park, has tested positive through the university.

Penn State’s next update to its COVID-19 dashboard will occur sometime Tuesday.

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©2020 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

Visit the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.) at www.centredaily.com

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