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Damon Sims ‘Claims Success’ On Penn State’s Fall Semester, Ignores Shortcomings

Penn State Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims sent a congratulatory email to students Friday afternoon as the university effectively crossed the finish line on its unprecedented fall semester.

Sims particularly touted how Penn State overcame the coronavirus pandemic’s challenges to bring students back to campus. However, he didn’t acknowledge the semester’s many shortcomings, including nearly 5,000 student coronavirus cases, increased pressure on local health systems, and rule-breaking parties and gatherings.

“We started this journey moons ago in August, without knowing exactly how far we would get, but optimistic and hopeful all the same,” Sims wrote. “And now, soon to enter the fourth week of November, we may collectively, and with some sense of pride, claim success.”

Sims continued, noting Penn State didn’t overwhelm State College’s local health care system. While that may be true at face value, local hospitals have felt the pressure recently.

Mount Nittany Medical Center, for example, is currently treating a record-high 27 coronavirus-positive inpatients aged between 31 and 94 years old. The hospital has already admitted 70 coronavirus-positive patients in November — up from 58 in October and 16 in September.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country and the increased numbers we are seeing in our own community are certainly a cause for concern,” Mount Nittany Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nirmal Joshi said in a statement.

The hospital recently implemented its “Surge Capacity Plan,” which includes adjustments to its normal operations following an increase in admissions of coronavirus patients. Mount Nittany is also restricting visitors until further notice as coronavirus cases soar statewide.

Sims added Penn State’s capacity to manage the virus on campus was not hindered either. The university wound up administering 78,514 total student coronavirus tests this semester, resulting in 4,587 total student positives.

Penn State’s reported cases smashed the predictions of one faculty-led group, which, in August, estimated 2,500 students would contract the virus by the semester’s end if testing wasn’t expanded.

Twenty-nine University Park employees also tested positive this semester.

Penn State’s positives peaked in September and gradually fell over the semester. Still, it wound up reporting 259 student cases this week.

Later, Sims wrote Penn State’s “success” must primarily be attributed to the “overwhelming majority” of students who followed Penn State’s guidelines “again and again” and “without much fuss.”

“Each of us can offer our own story of sacrifice and compromise,” Sims wrote. “We all have missed occasions and opportunities we should have enjoyed, and we have done so because it was the right thing to do, both for us and for others. That is true for no group more than it is for our students.”

However, the university wound up issuing disciplinary measures against more than 1,300 students back in October and hasn’t provided an update since then. Ten students received suspensions, while 17 had their university housing revoked following violations of coronavirus mitigation policies.

Penn State also cracked down on off-campus parties, specifically those at fraternities and apartment complexes like Penn Tower and The Rise. The university suspended several fraternities, including Phi Kappa Psi and Pi Kappa Alpha, for hosting large socials that broke local and university guidelines.

As students prepare to head home for the holidays, Sims implored them to continue practicing good public health habits, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

“Our journey is far from over,” Sims wrote. “Some of you will leave State College to go home to family and friends, and I hope you do so only after being tested for the virus and knowing what risk you pose. Others will stay in State College or return after the Thanksgiving holiday to finish out the semester here. In either case, our collective vigilance remains as important as ever. The virus grows its foothold among us, and only by continuing to abide, if not redouble, the social distancing, masking, and personal hygiene requirements we know too well will our success continue.”

He said Penn State’s planned return to campus in mid-January hinges upon students’ ability to continue practicing those habits and “our willingness to do what is right.”

“I am grateful for your willingness to do exactly that through the past months, and I know you will continue to do so in the months ahead,” Sims wrote.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

By day, Matt is a senior majoring in journalism. By night, he's Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football lover, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.


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