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Downtown ‘Arts Fest’ Crowds A Grim Warning Sign For Fall Semester

Although this summer’s Arts Fest was canceled months ago, hordes of students and townies crowded downtown State College this weekend to party with friends and hit up the bars.

The only problem? The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.

However, sharply rising case numbers and infection rates across the country didn’t stop folks from partying in town over the past few days. Dozens lined the streets while waiting to get into low-capacity bars, and most didn’t bother to mask up or keep their distance, either.

According to Sam Brungo, Onward State’s resident townie, State College crowds haven’t been anywhere near this weekend’s levels in months. He believes if the masses get this bad for virtual Arts Fest, Penn State’s fall semester will be nothing short of a disaster.

“Town was packed like a Friday before a football game,” Brungo told me. “No masks when walking, no social distancing, big-ass bar lines. Lots of balcony parties and daylongs in front yards.”

Look, it’s summer. I get it. Some students have been cooped up in their homes for the better part of the past four months and are dying for some social interaction. But if they’re not willing to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously in order to crack open some cold ones with their friends, some clearly aren’t willing to follow procedures to take their classes this fall.

Above all, this weekend’s crowds show some students aren’t willing to do their part to keep each other safe.

But what’s it going to take to wake them up to the pandemic’s realities? How many students need to die? One student already did a few weeks back, who reportedly picked up the virus in downtown State College and passed away at home in Allentown just a few days later.

That student, 21-year-old Juan Garcia, contracted the virus on a run-of-the-mill week in State College. What’s going to happen when more than 40,000 college students leave home and head to Happy Valley? Well, they’ll do what college students do best: hit the town, go to bars, socialize, and throw caution to the wind.

If that becomes a reality, coronavirus cases could potentially become widespread across campus within the first few weeks of the semester. Penn State plans to send students who’ve tested positive to the Nittany Lion Inn to quarantine, but what’ll happen if it hits capacity? What will happen if Mount Nittany Medical Center, which recently laid off a chunk of its staff, runs out of hospital beds and helping hands?

When Penn State laid out its plans for the fall semester, I knew things would get messy one way or another. However, I hoped students would rise to the occasion and take it upon themselves to combat the virus and make up for the unquestionable administrative shortcomings this fall. Maybe I was wrong.

I’m sure many students and townies out there are doing their part by following guidelines and taking precautions. To those who are, thank you. I encourage you to lead by example and continue laying the groundwork for others to follow suit.

If Penn Staters want to avoid a university-wide shitshow this fall, they’ll all need to do their part. They’ll need to wear a mask to class, to their dorm, to the dining halls, and yes, to the bars. They’ll need to social distance as best they can. They’ll need to take care of themselves and their friends and their roommates.

If you care about Penn State football, wear a mask. If you want to see THON take over the Bryce Jordan Center in February, wear a mask. If you care about local businesses, wear a mask. If you simply want to make sure no more families send their child to Penn State this fall only to never return, wear a mask.

At the end of the day, students need to use their heads and care for each other. You wear your face mask to protect the folks around you. It’s not just about yourself — it’s a collective effort to help each other out and keep each other safe.

Roll your eyes all you want. This is a “We Are” moment if I’ve ever seen one.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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