Penn State plans to share COVID-19 numbers, but concerns remain in borough about student behavior

  • Anne Danahy/StateImpact Pennsylvania

In keeping with federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines, college students in Pennsylvania will be counted where they’re actually living and plan to live for most of the year — not their permanent home addresses.

That will help towns like Lock Haven, Bradford and State College — where Penn State’s main campus is — see if COVID-19 cases are climbing.

A state Department of Health spokesman confirmed a student living on campus or in an apartment in town would be counted in that school’s county.

In addition to that, a Penn State spokesman said in an email that the university is “committed to sharing overall numbers on a campus-by-campus basis” with guidance from HIPAA, the federal privacy health law.

He said the university wants “everyone on campus and in the community to be well informed about campus cases.”

Matt Ferrari, an associate professor of biology and co-chair of one of the Penn State task forces focused on COVID-19, said an informed community will play an important role in slowing COVID-19.

“We want everyone on our campuses and across the community to be well informed about what’s happening in the campuses and what’s happening in the communities surrounding them,” Ferrari said during a recent university town hall.

State College Mayor Ron Filippelli was glad to hear student cases will be counted at their college address. But, he is concerned.

“With these students coming in the numbers that are going to be coming back to what is essentially a small town, the impact could be considerable,” Filippelli said.

He said he’s not criticizing Penn State for trying to reopen, and that the university is taking steps to prepare for students, including requiring masks and social distancing on campus.

“But this issue that I think they have not been able to deal with, and that state law at least as far as I understand it so far, is what happens when these students cross College Avenue,” Filippelli said.

Most students at University Park live off campus. Filippelli said the borough is looking into what options it has for enforcing rules like mask-wearing.

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