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Penn State ‘Prepared To Alter Plans’ As COVID-19’s Omicron Variant Worsens

Penn State is encouraging community members to stay flexible as yet another COVID-19 variant takes hold across the country.

In a release published early Friday morning, Penn State said community members should be “prepared to alter plans” if the university is required to begin the spring semester online. The statement said Penn State will provide an update on the situation on Thursday, December 30.

 ”Penn State plans to begin the semester in person as planned, however with local COVID-19 hospitalizations at an all-time high, and the uneven spread of the omicron variant creating uncertainty, Penn State officials are reminding the University Park campus community, out of an abundance of caution, to be prepared to alter plans, should the University need to start the spring semester remotely,” Penn State said in a statement.

Penn State President Eric Barron said the university’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center will continue monitoring pandemic conditions over winter break. Ironically, the center isn’t expected to update its COVID-19 Dashboard with new testing data until the spring semester begins in a few weeks.

“Our overriding concern remains the health and safety of our campus and local community,” Barron said. “As I have said throughout the pandemic, the University has developed a number of on-ramps and off-ramps to address situations that may emerge. We fully expect to start the spring semester as planned with in-person classes and activities, but we also wanted to let the University Park campus community know that we are continuing to monitor local conditions and are prepared to alter return plans for the semester if deemed necessary.”

Penn State’s statement on the worsening omicron variant comes just days after Cornell sent its own classes online. The Ivy League school added 903 student cases to its dashboard this week as part of a post-Thanksgiving spike that sent its campus into high alert.

Penn State has continuously reiterated that classes are expected to remain in person as scheduled. However, should in-person learning get delayed or reverted online, faculty members would be permitted to use classrooms to conduct classes remotely.

Mount Nittany Medical Center is currently observing its highest COVID-19 inpatient levels of the entire pandemic. At midnight on Tuesday, the medical center had 76 COVID-19 inpatients, the most at any point during the pandemic. Additionally, its average daily census of 61 COVID-19 inpatients this month eclipses the previous high of 49 in December 2020.

Last month, Mount Nittany Medical Center diverted ambulances to other hospitals outside Centre County due to an overwhelming number of emergency room patients.

Today, 89.8% of students and 90% of employees at University Park are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Penn State employees are required to get vaccinated as the university complies with a federal mandate.

Earlier this month, Penn State extended its indoor mask-wearing mandate through the spring semester. The requirement applies to all, regardless of vaccination status.

Visit Penn State’s dedicated website to learn more about the university’s latest COVID-19 policies.

StateCollege.com’s Geoff Rushton contributed to this report.

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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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