What You Need To Know About Penn State’s Fall 2021 COVID-19 Plans
If you missed Penn State’s fall semester town hall Tuesday afternoon, there’s a lot you probably need to catch up on.
In a gist, vaccines aren’t mandatory, COVID-19 testing is ramping up, and mask policies aren’t changing…yet. To learn more about Penn State’s fall semester plans, check out what we know so far.
First and foremost, the university doubled down on not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students and employees. Instead, Penn State will continue encouraging them for all to promote community safety.
“While we are not currently requiring vaccinations, Penn State is not impartial when it comes to getting vaccinated,” said President Eric Barron. “The university’s stance is that everyone who can get a vaccine should do so as soon as possible to attain very high vaccination rates on all Penn State campuses.”
According to newly released survey data, the majority of Penn State student and employee respondents are already vaccinated against the virus.
About 77% of surveyed students said they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims. The survey, sent out to more than 87,000 Penn State students, garnered an overall 42% response rate and a 54% response rate at University Park.
Meanwhile, 92% of employee respondents said they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Employee surveys were sent to more than 35,000 faculty and staff across Penn State’s entire network. About half responded, garnering a 56% response rate.
“We’re mindful of the fact that this survey may have a response bias built into it, but we still think this is a valuable data point,” Sims said, noting the optional survey for students closes on Friday, August 6.
In a statement, Penn State said the survey results with self-reported vaccination rates are encouraging. However, bias can’t be avoided. “The Office of Planning, Assessment and Institutional Research, which prepared and distributed the University-wide survey, cautions that there is the potential for response bias in the survey results as vaccinated individuals may be more likely to respond to the survey than unvaccinated individuals, which could lead to lower vaccination rates in the non-respondent population,” Penn State said. “However, the survey does provide robust estimates of the range of vaccination rates in our community.”
While vaccinations aren’t required, Penn State said unvaccinated individuals will be subjected to more restrictions this fall.
Kelly Wolgast, the director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center, said on-arrival testing is required this fall for students who don’t submit proof of vaccination by Monday, August 9. University Park will conduct on-arrival testing through rapid tests, and those who test negative may move into their dorms.
Those who test positive must isolate for 10 days either at home or on campus.
Additionally, unvaccinated students living on campus will be tested weekly for COVID-19, according to Sims. Administrators promised strong (yet largely unspecified) consequences for those who don’t comply with testing policies.
“This is also a tool to encourage those who are not vaccinated, and can be vaccinated, to get a vaccine,” Sims said, noting vaccinated students can bypass weekly mandates.
Random surveillance testing will return this fall, too, although exact details remain sparse. Last spring, Penn State aimed to test about 2% of its on-campus population of students and employees each day.
On-demand testing will expand as well, Wolgast said, noting each Penn State campus will provide locations for voluntary COVID-19 testing. Specific details about fall semester testing sites aren’t available yet.
Getting A Vaccine
While vaccines still aren’t required, Penn State is working to make them more accessible for students.
On August 23 and 24, Penn State will offer the two-dose Moderna vaccine through an on-campus clinic at University Park. Through it, eligible students can receive either their first or second dose.
Additionally, University Health Services will begin offering vaccine appointments on Thursdays and Fridays starting September 2, Wolgast said. Each day’s clinic will stretch from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Signup details for UHS’s vaccine clinics are available on the Office of Student Affairs’ website.
Quarantine & Isolation
This fall, Penn State will continue offering quarantine and isolation space on campus for students affected by COVID-19. Although capacity has been halved, about 200 single-occupancy Eastview Terrace rooms will be reserved for quarantine and isolation space.
Unlike last year, though, students won’t have remote options for “most” classes, according to Provost Nick Jones. He suggested students work with their professors individually to find a solution if they’re forced to miss in-person classes.
“This is yet another reason to get vaccinated,” Jones said. “There may be some breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals, but the majority of those who need to go into isolation and quarantine will be students who choose to forgo getting vaccinated.”
Jones suggested students who can’t get vaccinated and are negatively affected by quarantine and isolation should consider switching to Penn State’s World Campus, which offers online programs.
Some faculty, including economics professor James Tierney, criticized the university for its rigid policy. On Twitter, he said he’ll continue offering asynchronous and virtual course materials to any of his students when needed.
Penn State said it will continue offering contact tracing support for students living off campus.
For now, Penn State’s masking guidelines aren’t changing.
Unvaccinated individuals are required to wear masks indoors, although such a policy is essentially impossible to actually enforce. Meanwhile, masking isn’t required outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Wolgast said masking restrictions could become tighter if community COVID-19 spread grows to “high or substantial” levels near each campus, determined by Centers for Disease Control guidance. Penn State is reportedly monitoring each county’s transmission levels to adjust guidelines as needed.
“We will look at this daily — more than daily, frankly — and those campuses that are home in [high-risk counties] will shift to [a] more-enhanced masking strategy,” Wolgast said.
When local transmission becomes “substantial or high,” according to the CDC’s tracker, all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks indoors on campus. That includes athletic venues like Rec Hall and the Bryce Jordan Center.
This is a breaking news post. We’ll update our story with more information as it becomes available.
For the most up-to-date information on Penn State’s COVID-19 policies, visit its dedicated website.
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This marks the first time the Nittany Lions are left out of the preseason poll since 2016.
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