University Park leaders briefing Centre County authorities on pandemic plans

February 10, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mindful of Penn State’s close connection to the communities it serves, University Park leaders are meeting with local authorities to share the planned return of students, the University’s testing and contact tracing strategies and other potential questions from the community at large.     

“As we continue to battle this pandemic, we also continue to learn more about how best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is enabling us to evolve our plans and respond to the various needs of our community,” said Charima Young, director of local government and community relations in Penn State’s Office of Government and Community Relations. “Sharing our plans and the knowledge we gain from our research and work in this area with our broader community can only help overall efforts.” 

As part of the local briefings, Penn State leaders have been or will be providing updates to the Centre County Commissioners; local landlords and property managers; State College Borough Council; township managers and officials; and the Centre Region Council of Governments (COG).  

Some of the focus of meetings already held have been on the following questions: 

Q. Is there a difference in the plan from the fall semester to the spring semester?

A. The spring semester strategies are built on those implemented in the fall but expanded and augmented based on what we have learned. Penn State has developed a comprehensive spring 2021 COVID-19 testing strategy for all campuses that includes both required and voluntary testing during the remote learning period and the in-person portion of the spring semester. For this spring, all students from all campuses, including those who are fully remote or online and live within a 20-mile radius of a Penn State campus, are required to participate in COVID-19 testing and have a negative test result on file from a University-provided test prior to their return to their campus community; this includes students who remained in their campus community after fall semester and throughout winter break. Those who test positive must isolate at home and before they return to their campus or campus community.  

Then, during the first two weeks of in-person learning (Feb. 15-26), the University will conduct universal COVID-19 testing of all students who are taking in-person classes or who are taking a fully remote or online course load while living in Centre County or within a 20-mile radius of a Penn State campus. Students who test positive will be referred to isolation and the University’s contact tracing process will be initiated. This is new for the spring semester, compared to last fall.  

Also, beginning March 1 for both employees and students, the University will conduct random daily surveillance testing of approximately 2% of the University’s population of students and employees living, learning or working on campus as well as those who access campus. 

So testing has been expanded and contact tracing has been enhanced with new tracking software; we continue to mandate masking and physical distancing; cleaning and disinfecting our meeting spaces remain a priority; and our COVID-19 dashboard has been updated, expanded and shared more frequently. In addition, until Feb. 12, students who are living in campus residence halls are required to have weekly COVID-19 tests.  

Q. Off-campus students have already arrived in our community. How does Penn State know if they are negative for COVID-19?

A. We continue to stress the importance of wearing a face mask, avoiding gatherings and physical distancing by all in our community. Regular use of voluntary testing is strongly encouraged for any student living near a Penn State campus during the remote portion of the semester. At University Park, walk-up testing is available at the Hintz Family Alumni Center for all students — living either on or off campus through Feb. 12. After that date, all students from all campuses, including those who are fully remote or online and live in Centre County or within a 20-mile radius of a Penn State campus, are required to participate in COVID-19 testing and have a negative test result from a University-provided test on file prior to their return to their campus community — this includes students who remained in their campus community after fall semester and throughout winter break. As noted above, during the first two weeks of in-person learning (Feb. 15-26), the University will conduct universal COVID-19 testing of all students who are taking in-person classes or who are taking a fully remote or online course load while living in Centre County. In addition, University Health Services is available for any student who does not feel well.

Q. Why is Penn State bringing students back before the virus is completely under control?

A. Experts have indicated that COVID-19 will continue to be with us long into the future. Penn State did delay the start of in-person classes and transition to a fully remote learning environment following analysis and scenario planning based on local and national pandemic predictions. The University opted to delay the return to campus of students to help protect both the health and safety of Penn State and local communities. This delay also is allowing many front-line health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and beginning to reach the vulnerable elderly population. 

As we did in the fall, we have plans for various scenarios that include “off ramps” to allow us to reduce viral spread, such as curtailing or suspending some programs or activities, or perhaps quarantining a particular residence hall on campus, if warranted. 

Q. Is Penn State making the vaccine mandatory for students, faculty and staff?

A. The vaccine is not yet available to the general public and a decision about whether to require the vaccine has not been made. At this time Penn State is not a point of distribution, but we have a comprehensive plan developed for how we could quickly activate should this change. The University strongly urges its community to receive the vaccine when it does become more available, as this is an additional tool to contain the spread of COVID-19. For more information on the vaccine, distribution of which is currently being overseen by the state Department of Health, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.  

Q. Will Penn State delay the return of students if the situation worsens across the region/state/country?

A. The University is basing its decisions on health and safety factors and guidance from the state. Feb. 15 was chosen following extensive evaluation and scenario planning. In addition, a delayed start also provides more time for health care workers and others to receive the COVID vaccine by mid-February. Again, as in the fall, we do have “off ramps” in our plans that will allow Penn State to pivot if necessary. 

Q. Will the University still host big events like Blue-White Game, commencement, Arts Fest, etc.?

A. Penn State is exploring options for these and other large events. This month, Penn State released the latest information on 2021 Commencement planning. The University recognizes the importance of these traditions to the community and is committed to finding ways to return to in-person events when health and safety guidelines permit. At this time, it is premature to make predictions as much will be dependent on the progression of the pandemic, as well as the distribution of vaccines. 

 

 

Last Updated February 14, 2021