University Park, PA — Initial testing results released Aug. 28 on Penn State’s public COVID-19 dashboard consisted of 14 positive cases from symptomatic testing and 13 positive cases from surveillance testing, for a total of 27 positive test results at the University Park campus for the period from Aug. 21 to 27.
The impacted individuals, all students, are in isolation, and the University has initiated its contact tracing and quarantine process. Additionally, one student at Penn State Behrend tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation. No other Commonwealth Campuses have positive tests at this time.
During the pre-arrival testing process, the University identified 153 COVID-19 positive individuals, primarily from counties with high virus infection rates, prior to their arrival on campus. These individuals were able to go into isolation, helping, as planned, to reduce the number of asymptomatic individuals who ultimately returned to campus.
“We must all remain extremely vigilant and continue to adhere vigorously to the safety protocols that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “This includes wearing face masks, maintaining physical distance from one another, practicing good hygiene, and staying home when feeling ill. With contact tracing and our efforts in quarantine and isolation, we believe we can limit the virus’ spread. I can’t emphasize enough that we must maintain our focus on our health guidelines.”
To continue on-campus learning, work and other activities through the fall semester, it’s imperative that students, faculty and staff at all campuses and in adjacent communities do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19 — and support the effort to “Mask Up or Pack Up.” The University urges everyone to wear face masks, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings entirely.
Students in isolation are receiving support from the University, including daily check-ins regarding their physical and mental health. The University is working closely with these students to see that they continue to make academic progress, and to assist with any other needs that may arise. This includes assigning a case manager to work individually with students to determine the support they may need to be successful, such as providing academic assistance and helping with notifications to faculty members; working with Penn State Food Services to deliver meals; and assisting with necessities such as fresh linens, trash collection and laundry service, as needed, via University Housing.
As part of Penn State’s multi-layered, comprehensive strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19, the University’s contact tracing process is being conducted in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Students and employees who test positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by both the Department of Health and the University to identify their close contacts. Penn State will notify all students and employees who are identified as close contacts and provide detailed instructions on next steps, while the state will reach out to close contacts who are not affiliated with the University.
At University Health Services (UHS), on the University Park campus, the arrival of new Abbott testing equipment has provided a capacity for conducting an average of 100 symptomatic tests per day, on site, with results typically available in about an hour. Additional support for expanded symptomatic testing, with a 48-hour maximum turnaround time is provided by Quest Diagnostics. UHS also has expanded the number of negative pressure isolation rooms from two to 11, to help build capacity for patient evaluation.
Penn State’s daily surveillance testing began on Aug. 24, the first day of classes. So far, 4,050 tests have been administered at University Park, in line with the target to test daily at least 1% of the University population that is learning and working on campus. Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses are conducting a randomized surveillance testing program to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19. Each Commonwealth Campus will perform daily testing of at least 1% of its on-campus student, faculty and staff.
Compliance rates with the University’s COVID-19 surveillance testing program are high at more than 90%, and Penn State is following up in all instances where someone either did not schedule or show up for a testing appointment. If someone did not participate, it does not necessarily mean they refused. Some students, for example, have changed their status to remote learning and are not on campus, but may have been selected for testing.
Currently, Vault Health is conducting the daily surveillance tests, with plans for the University’s Testing and Surveillance Center to come online on or before Sept. 7. With this layered process, the University does have flexibility. Based on circumstances, Penn State has the ability to launch additional testing. For example, earlier this week, the University announced precautionary testing at East Halls and for Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity due to large gatherings. Testing after the events at the recent on- and off- campus gatherings has not revealed concerning outcomes at this time, yet the University will continue to assess the data to learn if there are case-related trends that emerge.
“It is very early, and we have to take care in interpreting the results,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of the COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “Of course, we’ll be looking closely at the surveillance testing data, which currently has a 48-hour or earlier turnaround time. It’s important to remain vigilant, and understand more data is coming and will continue to come in.”
Overall, based on this initial data, COVID-19 appears to be present in predicted low numbers. This points to the importance of everyone on Penn State campuses and in the surrounding communities following health and safety guidelines. Through contact tracing, the University anticipates testing and isolating additional individuals, and in the coming days we will undoubtedly see more positive results, Barron said.
The University is tracking current trends and continuously monitoring local, state and national disease data and following guidance from state and local health officials. Based on that guidance, and in consultation with faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health, the University is prepared to adjust its approach as necessary. For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including frequently asked questions and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.