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[Live Blog] Penn State’s Second Fall Semester Town Hall

Penn State administrators will host yet another town hall this afternoon to discuss the fall semester and provide updates on the university’s plans.

According to a release from the university, President Eric Barron will provide updates on Penn State’s coronavirus testing plans, campus safety protocols, students’ return to campus, and more.

Barron will be joined by a number of administrators, including Provost Nick Jones, College of Medicine Dean Dr. Kevin Black, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Vice President for Human Resources Lorraine Goffe.

The event will be livestreamed beginning at 3 p.m. and later archived for repeat viewings if you’d like to watch again.

So far this week, Penn State has provided a slew of updates on how on-campus dining halls will operate this fall. Additionally, the university recently announced eight student-athletes had tested positive for the coronavirus since testing began earlier this summer.


4 p.m. — Thanks for tuning in today and following along with us, folks. There’s a lot of information here to process, and much more to come, but this should help to give you a better idea of what campus will look like this fall.

Stay safe, smart, and healthy! We’ll see you in a few weeks.

3:59 p.m. — “We can’t do this alone,” Barron says. “We really need you to focus on personal responsibility and to be our partner. It’s the only way that Back To State can be successful.”

He encourages students to take pre-arrival quarantine periods and testing seriously, to be ready for random testing around campus, and to make sure they’re wearing masks and following guidelines on campus and within the community.

3:57 p.m. — Barron reiterates Penn State can’t control students’ actions when they’re off campus. He adds students will need to do their part to make the fall semester work.

3:55 p.m. — Barron says Penn State will create a public coronavirus dashboard that displays broad testing figures and other relevant information. He suspects the university will provide more details than Penn State Athletics has been providing since it began testing student-athletes earlier this summer.

3:52 p.m. — Goffe joins the conversation and outlines expectations for staff members. She says the university will continue encouraging telework as long as it’s feasible.

“If the work can be done remotely, ideally, it should continue to be done remotely,” Goffe said.

3:50 p.m. — Jones says professors will have the power to suspend classes if needed and receive the “full support” of the university while returning to in-person or hybrid instruction.

3:49 p.m. — Jones focuses on faculty and details the support Penn State will provide to its employees. They’ll also be required to wear face masks all around campus. So far, Penn State purchased nearly two million pieces of personal protective equipment to keep its community safe.

3:47 p.m. — Jones chimes in and says campus will look “quite different” this fall. Classroom spaces will be modified with stickers and signs to enforce social distancing, buildings will be sanitized more often than usual, and students will feel a “decreased density” from what they’d usually experience.

“And of course, everybody will be wearing masks,” Jones said.

3:45 p.m. — Barron adds some public health decisions will be out of Penn State’s hands, including orders from Governor Tom Wolf or the federal government.

3:43 p.m. — Blacks says Penn State will monitor the virus on a daily basis to decide if it needs to revert to remote learning at any point this fall. He adds Mount Nittany Medical Center’s patient capacity is low but says Penn State will address mitigation efforts accordingly as the semester progresses.

3:38 p.m. — Sims encourages students to walk or bike to campus when possible this fall, as the Blue and White Loops won’t be active. Students who need travel accommodations will be provided with them upon request.

Sims also officially announced Parents Weekend won’t be held in-person this fall. However, an “online experience” will be created, with more details being provided at a later date this fall.

3:35 p.m. — Sims says students “absolutely” need to wear masks around campus, inside buildings, during classes, and in the dining halls.

Sims adds Penn State Dining will implement a slew of new public health guidelines, while Housing will allow on-campus residents to schedule move-in dates, starting with freshmen.

Move-in for freshmen will start on August 17, while returning students will start on August 21. More information will be provided to on-campus residents “very soon.”

3:33 p.m. — Sims once again reiterates students may face disciplinary action when they don’t comply with public health guidelines.

Additionally, Penn State will create task forces of students who promote following public health guidelines around campus. He adds each student will receive two face masks upon their arrival.

3:32 p.m. — Sims adds LionPATH will be updated with information regarding new coronavirus policies. Students will be required to read through the information and sign using an electronic signature.

3:30 p.m. — Sims begins speaking about student expectations upon their return to campus. He adds students will need to do their part by quarantining ahead of their arrival, avoiding large crowds on campus, and being diligent when out and about.

Penn State will add a phone number (which Sims didn’t remember off the top of his head) students can call to receive necessary help relating to the coronavirus.

3:29 p.m. — Black adds daily asymptomatic testing of 1% of the population (~700 people) will be done at designated locations around campus. Additionally, a system tracker will soon be added to the Penn State Go mobile app to provide regularly updated information to students, faculty, and staff.

3:25 p.m. — Sims says all students living on campus will be provided appropriate spaces for quarantine and isolation if they need it. He says off-campus students should anticipate the need to isolate and plan ahead for doing so.

Penn State will use three Eastview Terrace buildings to provide isolation spaces using up to 400 single-occupancy rooms.

3:24 p.m. — Sims adds Penn State will perform health checks, provide mental health resources, and other “fundamentals” to individuals involved in the process if necessary. Employees will also be involved in the contact-tracing process.

3:22 p.m. — Sims expands Penn State’s plans for “robust” contact-tracing. Penn State will partner with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to bolster its contact-tracing efforts, similar to how it did regarding viruses like measles and mumps.

The “hub and spoke” model will be centered at University Park but branch to each Commonwealth Campus. Sims says those identified in these processes will be contacted by a doctor or nurse and be provided advice for isolating, if necessary. They’ll need to quarantine for 14 days since they’ve been in contact with individuals who’ve tested positive for the virus.

3:20 p.m. — Jones says he realizes these plans aren’t perfect but will help Penn State combat the virus as best it can. He adds the university might employ “scratch ‘n sniff” cards to test individuals who may have lost their sense of smell.

3:19 p.m. — Black clarifies students who take part in pre-arrival testing will be selected based on infection rates where they live. Those living in high-risk areas will be prioritized for testing, Black says.

3:18 p.m. — Penn State will also implement a system to test asymptomatic individuals, who will be included in random and “risk-strategized” surveillance. This will include the aforementioned contact-tracing strategies.

3:15 p.m. — After returning to campus, Black says symptomatic individuals will be tested at designated locations at each Penn State campus. He states the university is finalizing plans with a well-known laboratory committed to “excellent turnaround times” for testing.

3:13 p.m. — Black says the pre-arrival program will test approximately 30,000 Penn Staters before they return to campus. He adds tests will be sent to individuals residing in “high-risk” areas in the weeks before arrival. Tests will be sent with shipping information and passed on to laboratories after they’re taken. Individuals who test positive may not return to campus unless cleared by a health care provider.

3:11 p.m. — Black says Penn State’s testing strategies will focus on keeping the coronavirus off campus and ensuring students stay safe. He notes strategies may differ from campus to campus, but the goals remain the same.

Black continues, saying Penn State will implement an “extensive” pre-arrival checklist before students return to campus. He adds approximately 1% of students, faculty, and staff will be tested each day, while symptomatic individuals will be tested when necessary.

3:09 p.m. — Sims added Welcome Week and New Student Orientation activities will continue as planned this fall, albeit with public health guidelines in place.

3:07 p.m. — Sims encourages students to remain vigilant when returning to campus. He says campus will obviously feel different, but they can make the most of it by following guidelines and staying safe to maintain the “college experience.”

3:05 p.m. — Barron sums up the university’s plans to return to campus. He adds about 50% of courses will feature an in-person component but notes Penn State is prepared to revert to remote learning if necessary.

He added mask-wearing will be mandatory and enforced in all classrooms and around campus.

“We’ve never been better prepared [to return to campus],” Sims added.

3 p.m. — President Barron takes the virtual stage to introduce today’s town hall. He says promoting health and safety remains Penn State’s highest priority and that university decisions are made alongside top medical advice.

2:50 p.m. — Welcome to Onward State’s live blog of today’s virtual town hall where university leaders will provide updates on the fall semester. This will be your one-stop-shop for everything addressed by Barron and Co. this afternoon.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt is a junior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football aficionado, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza. He loves Seinfeld, is really into video games, and would wipe the floor with you in Halo. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ for bad sports takes or email him at [email protected]

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