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Penn State Urges Students Not To Return To State College

The vast majority of Penn State students from out of town have not returned to State College since spring break in early March when the university announced it was moving to online instruction because of growing COVID-19 concerns. In the wake of stay-at-home orders for Centre and 32 other counties, the university is asking them once again to keep it that way — and for the ones who are here, not to hold any social events.

In a letter to students and families sent on Saturday, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims wrote that “recent social media communications have suggested that many students are contemplating returning here, partly because it is viewed as a safe location,” and urged families to follow public health directives to avoid unnecessary personal interactions.

“All of us are in this together, and all of us should expect each of our communities to be affected by this pandemic,” Sims wrote. “’Happy Valley’ is no refuge, nor is State College better equipped to respond to the anticipated overwhelming burden the pandemic will impose on local health care and other providers.”

At the time Sims wrote the letter, 22 counties were under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order allowing for only essential travel. Since then, 10 more counties have been added and it’s likely the number will continue to grow as the state looks to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The return of more students to this small community would only invite precisely the social interactions we must all work intently to avoid,” Sims wrote. “The virus seeks clusters of individuals who are willing to risk harm for the short-term gain of social interaction. We must not give it that chance.”

For the second time in a week, Sims also warned against off-campus social events.

Penn State had already told student groups to cancel in-person events of all kinds. But after several reports from State College residents about large gatherings of students, Sims said in a March 25 statement that “[to] clarify expectations and promote the health and welfare of all in our community, Student Affairs has issued a moratorium on all social gatherings that are organized, sponsored or endorsed by a recognized student organization, including fraternities and sororities.”

The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life has been in contact with members and advisers of Greek organizations with members currently living in State College to establish safety guidelines and expectations.

“We applaud the efforts of so many students and student organizations, including the fraternity and sorority community, to behave responsibly at this difficult time,” Sims said. “We believe fewer than 100 students are now living in fraternity chapter houses in State College, which is down from the nearly 2,800 residents typically found there. Continued vigilance in our Greek community and all our student organizations remains critically important as we do all we can, collectively, to stem the virus and protect those most vulnerable to its continuing assault upon our common welfare.” 

Penn State’s Interfraternity Council issued a statement reminding members that all social gatherings are currently prohibited and expressed support for state and local health and safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

According to the IFC statement, most fraternity houses have closed or reduced occupancy to those with extenuating circumstances. 

The IFC also is planning to initiate social media fundraising campaigns to support local businesses and nonprofits that have been most adversely impacted by the pandemic.

Sims said that any student organization that holds a social gathering during the prohibition will be subject to loss of university recognition for the organization and disciplinary consequences for individuals involved.

Wolf’s stay-at-home order is in effect through at least April 30. Centre County had 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, while statewide there has been a total of 4,843 cases in 60 counties.

“Please stay exactly where you are, if you can, and keep one another safe and well,” Sims wrote. “You have my very best wishes and thanks, as we all work together to overcome this challenge, as Penn Staters always do.”

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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