Penn State continues partnering with local communities in pandemic response

July 16, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Throughout the pandemic, Penn State has been working with local community leaders and stakeholders, both in the State College area and in neighboring communities across the commonwealth, to partner on strategies to limit the local impacts of COVID-19 through collaborative efforts informed by health and science.

Through active conversation, collaboration and partnership across all campus locations with municipal leaders, local public health authorities, local businesses, landlords and law enforcement, the University has been and remains focused on the health and safety of local communities. In close collaboration with these community partners, Penn State continues to actively consider topics including public health, communications, compliance and enforcement, with the goal of creating a safe and healthy environment for all.

“Penn State is intertwined with the communities it serves across the commonwealth. These are the towns and cities that our students, faculty, staff, partners and neighbors call home; where our Launch Boxes enrich local economies; and where Pennsylvanians can receive a world-class education, close to home, and strengthen Pennsylvania’s workforce,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “Our community partners and stakeholders have played, and will continue to play, an important role as we collectively navigate the challenges posed by this pandemic. We learn, work and live together, and it is up to all of us as individuals and as members of our communities to take an active role in promoting health and safety.”

Zack Moore, vice president for Government and Community Relations, said Penn State’s close working relationship with community stakeholders and ongoing commitment to collaboration have been key components of the University’s pandemic response.

“Communication and collaboration among University leaders and our community partners across the commonwealth has been vital to our ongoing efforts to take the necessary steps to safeguard the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, colleagues, friends and neighbors,” Moore said. “We tremendously value our community partners — their efforts have been indispensable as we look forward to continued collaboration during this critical time.”

A good example of such a cooperative effort in the Centre Region is the Infectious Hazards Planning Group (IHPG), formed in 2007. The IHPG includes 58 members from across the University and State College area community, including representatives from local emergency management teams, local government, health professionals and hospitals, and the local school district. The IHPG has met regularly since 2007 to discuss health threats including influenza, H1N1 and Ebola, and the IHPG continues to foster collaboration and shared resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of Government and Community Relations, which works closely with community stakeholders across the commonwealth, has undertaken a wide range of efforts and initiatives to partner with local leaders and organizations during the pandemic. These include facilitating meetings between Barron and leaders from the State College Borough and Centre County Commissioners office; engaging in weekly update calls with the State College Borough manager in May and June; participating in biweekly meetings with the State College Downtown Improvement District reporting on the status of the University’s COVID-19 action plans; working with borough and county leaders to navigate changes with the 2020 Census due to COVID-19; regularly sharing announcements and updates with a core group of local leaders via email; advocating for stimulus funding for college towns; facilitating meetings with Student Affairs and landlords to discuss shared move out procedures and public health messaging to students; and working with Centre County Commissioners to consolidate polling locations for the primary elections.

Commonwealth campuses also maintain close and productive relationships with communities across Pennsylvania, and work in collaboration with municipal and elected officials at the county, city, borough, township and neighborhood level; local health organizations and authorities; state and federal elected officials; and local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations. Commonwealth campuses have been hosting webinars during the pandemic between campus leadership and representatives from their local communities, while Penn State’s senior leadership has similarly been hosting webinars with local leaders in the State College and Centre County area.

University leaders are dedicated to keeping local leaders informed and to engaging community stakeholders in dialogue. These efforts have included a July 9 webinar that featured Barron alongside Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications Rachel Pell, and Associate Professor of Biology and researcher in the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Matt Ferrari. The conversation addressed questions from 60 attendees representing more than 20 local community stakeholder groups about the return to campus, testing and contact tracing, encouraging safe and responsible behavior, and how Penn State plans to partner with local communities on each of these fronts.

This event follows a similar webinar held on May 28 between a wide range of community representatives and Barron, Sims, Ferrari and Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour for a conversation on athletics, the return to campus and the COVID-19 Data 4 Action Project — a program in which Penn State researchers are collecting pandemic-related with the goal of providing local leaders, community stakeholders and University leadership with actionable scientific data specific to the local community.

These efforts across the University continue years of collaborative partnerships between Penn State and key community stakeholders, a process to which Penn State remains committed and that will continue to evolve and expand moving forward. University leadership remains dedicated to health and safety as Penn State prepares for a limited return to campus this fall. To stay up to date with the latest information as the work of these collaborative partnerships continues, visit https://virusinfo.psu.edu. Additional information about community resources is also available at https://virusinfo.psu.edu/resources.

Last Updated July 17, 2020