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Penn State’s Winter Break Testing Data Consistent With Nationwide COVID-19 Spike

Penn State’s winter break COVID-19 testing returned results that are consistent with rising case counts across the country, according to a release published on Friday.

From December 20 to January 6, Penn State administered 4,646 total tests at University Park, resulting in 675 positives (14.5% positivity rate). The university’s winter break testing data included tests administered at University Health Services and the White Building’s drop-in site, plus at-home kits and student-athlete testing.

This week’s data dump serves as Penn State’s first glimpse at on-campus COVID-19 testing in nearly a month. The university hasn’t updated its COVID-19 Dashboard since December 9, although regular Tuesday and Thursday updates are expected to resume once the spring semester begins.

Penn State’s positivity rate observed nearly a 13% jump over winter break compared to early December’s seven-day average (1.5%), according to its dashboard. That spike is consistent with rising COVID-19 infections in Pennsylvania, which just set a single-day record with 32,053 reported positives on Friday. The commonwealth’s 10 largest single-day case increases have occurred in the past 10 days. Additionally, for the second straight day, Pennsylvania hospitals reported a record number of COVID-19 inpatients (6,680).

“We anticipated that our positive case counts and positivity rates would increase given the rise in COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania and nationally due to the omicron variant,” said Kelly Wolgast, the director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “At this time, we are seeing lower testing volume overall due to the University’s winter break; however, those who are seeking testing are usually either symptomatic or they are asymptomatic but have been exposed to the virus. As expected, this has resulted in a higher positivity rate.”

Penn State’s COVID-19 statistics will likely rise once students return to campus this weekend. That data could be skewed, though, considering only unvaccinated students and employees are required to get tested each week.

The university is not requiring pre-arrival COVID-19 testing this spring, although students and employees can order free at-home test kits through Vault Health.

To encourage on-arrival testing, Penn State is opening its White Building testing site over move-in weekend. The site will remain open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on January 8 and 9. The White Building’s regular hours, available here, will begin on Monday, January 10.

About 89.8% of students and 90% of employees at University Park are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although those numbers figure to rise once new data is factored in through Penn State’s COVID-19 Dashboard. The reporting tool does not include information about students’ COVID-19 vaccine booster coverage.

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

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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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