University, local leaders call for renewed safety effort as COVID-19 cases rise

March 26, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in the State College area, Penn State and local leaders today (March 26) appealed to students and local residents to redouble their safety efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus on campus and throughout the surrounding community.

Penn State President Eric Barron was joined by State College Mayor Ron Filippelli, Dr. Christopher Hester, chief clinical officer of primary care services for Mount Nittany Health; State College Area School District Superintendent Robert O’Donnell; Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County (CBICC) President and CEO Vern Squire; and Penn State Center for Infectious Diseases Dynamics Director Matt Ferrari in an online press conference to appeal to students and residents.

“We are joining together because our concern and call for continued vigilance is for the whole community. This is not a matter of students being more lax. Or community members. Or visitors. It’s about everyone,” Filippelli said. “We’re seeing a relaxation across the board, unfortunately. Our community for the most part has done an excellent job adhering to the protocols and to our borough ordinance. But the uptick is worrying.”

As people have been leaving their homes more often with the onset of spring and warming temperatures, the leaders collectively urged students and residents to continue wearing masks, practicing physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

“Walking or driving around campus or in town lately, I see an increasing number of students, parents and visitors, gathered in groups, waiting in line and in close contact with others without masks. We are seeing our University testing rates positivity rising, and they’re going up in our local community, too,” Barron said. He said as a result of the growing positivity, Penn State has implemented supplementary testing at eight residence halls at the University Park campus, as well as at one apartment building in downtown State College.

Barron said that the University’s wastewater monitoring also has detected the presence of the B 1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus.

“This is absolutely a more transmissible variant. It is indeed 30% to 50% more transmissible than the original variant. It means that masking and physical distancing are increasingly important. This variant does also increase the likelihood of severe disease and mortality if infected,” Ferrari said. “I do want to point out, however, that the current Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — the three vaccines that are available in the United States — are all effective against this variant at the same efficacy as the original SARS coronavirus. The vaccines that we’re distributing now in our communities is highly protective against this.” 

He continued, “I want to reinforce what many people have said — masking and distancing are enormously preventive measures, even if you don’t have the vaccine, or even if you do have the vaccine. This is an important point for everyone in our community to take part in — to be an active participant in prevention community-wide.”

Filippelli warned that State College Borough is prepared to enforce existing COVID-related ordinances, including mask wearing, limiting lines outside of businesses and restricting large gatherings, adding that the borough has issued 139 citations.

Penn State also is enforcing its COVID-19 safety rules on campus through police citations and sanctions through the Student Affairs Office of Student Conduct. Barron said to date, 381 students have been sanctioned so far this semester for violations of various COVID-19 related restrictions and policies, including refusal to wear a mask or face covering in public, non-adherence to Penn State’s quarantine/isolation guidelines, and failure to observe guidance that strictly moderates gatherings both on and off campus.

Officials cautioned that gains made during the pandemic — including the expansion of campus services and availability of facilities, the easing of restrictions on area restaurants and businesses, the return of in-person classes for State College Area School District and the continuation of regular hospital services — could be in jeopardy if COVID-19 cases continue to rise locally.

“We have seen a significant rise in the number of new cases, as well as the number of hospitalizations due to COVID, in the last couple of weeks. This trend is concerning,” Mount Nittany Health’s Hester said. “We do not want to get to the point again where we need to limit our services because of the number of hospitalized COVID patients.”

Superintendent O’Donnell said, “These lapses negatively affect our school operations because of the complexity of contact tracing. And student learning suffers when individuals go into isolation and quarantine and are missing classes, especially for our youngest students. Families depending on in-person instruction are also impacted. Moreover, we’d love to implement the new CDC guidance and offer more students the opportunity for in-person learning in the final months of the school year. To do this, cases must be lower. We cannot do this alone as a school district, but as a collective community, we sure can.”

CBICC’s Squier added, “The best way to help restore our local businesses and economy is for people to follow the guidelines diligently. The best way to help our businesses recover, support our outstanding schools, make sure that our hospital can provide care to all of us, and to bring more people back to state College is simple. All it takes is everybody doing their part.”

A recording of the event is available at liveevents.psu.edu.

Students who are concerned they may have been exposed to COVID-19 can take advantage of the University’s free walk-up testing program. University Park students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should schedule a testing appointment with University Health Services via myUHS.  

For community members, the Pennsylvania Department of Health offers online resources for COVID-19 symptoms and testing, as well as information on coronavirus vaccines.

For the latest information on Penn State’s response to COVID-19 and answers to frequently asked questions, go to the University’s coronavirus information website

Last Updated March 26, 2021