Editor’s note: All data regarding Coronavirus case numbers was collected on Nov. 19 at 3 p.m. For the most up-to-date case numbers, visit SRU’s COVID-19 dashboard or access a university’s dashboard using its website.
With the fall 2020 semester coming to an end, the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) have totaled more than 2,000 positive COVID-19 cases as students wait for their respective universities to release their final spring 2021 semester plans.
In light of these unprecedented times, PASSHE released its framework for the fall 2020 semester in June, which outlined how the state system universities should approach the semester with specific guidance in areas like academics, face-to-face instruction, student life, and health and safety.
The framework emphasized that it is each universities’ responsibility to determine how they would engage in face-to-face instruction along with other aspects of the semester specific to each university. Because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and its potential effects, the state system universities were advised to create a contingency plan for alternate ways of operating should COVID-19 evolve.
Since then, PASSHE universities have added COVID-19 dashboards to their websites to keep track of COVID-19 cases in the campus community, including student and faculty cases. Seven of the 14 schools (Bloomsburg, California, Indiana, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville and Shippensburg Universities) differentiate the COVID-19 cases of students between those who reside on- and off-campus.
Spring semester plans
As we near the end of the fall 2020 semester, the PASSHE universities are preparing for the upcoming spring 2021 semester with some of the same regulations.
Of the 14 state system schools, eight are going into the spring with a hybrid approach, with a combination of in-person classes and remote methods. The universities with a hybrid model include Bloomsburg, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.
To be more flexible for students, Bloomsburg University will be offering courses in an in-person, remote or hybrid format. According to Bloomsburg’s web page for spring 2021 plans, nearly 40% of their curriculum will be face-to-face and hybrid.
Clarion University will also be delivering its classes in a hybrid model. The PASSHE school chose this method so that if students do not feel comfortable taking classes in person, they can continue to learn remotely. Similarly, the other six schools (Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities) are implementing the same format.
In an email sent to SRU stakeholders on Oct. 8, SRU President William Behre expressed how he understands that the current plans are nott exactly what he, students and faculty had hoped for, but “it is proven to work as evidenced by our low case count.”
“This approach will provide for the continued health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Behre said. “Which, as always, is our top priority. It is our continued adherence to mitigation efforts that will hopefully help us return to our pre-pandemic methods of operation in fall 2021.”
Similarly, Shippensburg University is using the same hybrid technique as the fall semester named the HyFlex learning model, which allows students to learn in-person and online.
As for the rest of the state system, two schools (California University and East Stroudsburg University) will have some in-person classes and on-campus activities, but will be primarily online.
Lock Haven University said specifically 85% of their spring courses will be taught remotely while the rest will have hands-on courses with face-to-face instruction. These in-person classes will mainly be reserved for courses like studio art, various labs, clinical work and student teaching.
With the same modality as their fall semester, Millersville University will operate with about 80% of their classes being remote. This approach includes classes that are either synchronous and asynchronous, which is similar to what many universities are doing during the pandemic.
Cheyney University has not yet announced their plans for spring 2021. Brian Dries, a Philadelphia director for Ceisler Media, the organization that manages Cheyney’s media inquiries, said their leadership team is currently reviewing its plans for next semester and will communicate them to the campus community when they are available.
Mansfield also has not released plans for next semester as of press time.
As of Thursday morning, there were a total of 2,031 cases reported between all 14 PASSHE universities.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania has the highest number of cases in the state system with a total of 419 cases, or about 20.6% of all cases.
With 387 cases reported (or about 19.1% of the state system’s total cases), Kutztown University has the second-highest case number in the system as of Thursday morning. Bloomsburg reported 381 cases (18.8%), while Slippery Rock has 254 (12.5%) and Shippensburg University has 192 (9.5%). Lock Haven has reported 109 cases (5.4%) during the same date.
These six universities totaled to 1,742, accounting for 85.8% of the cases represented throughout PASSHE.
Millersville University’s numbers are significantly smaller than the larger six, with 98 cases and accounting for 4.8% of the total. While Clarion has 63 (3.1%) reported cases, Edinboro (33), Mansfield (24), East Stroudsburg (27), California (8) and Cheyney (4) each have reported 50 cases or less and collectively contributing to about 4.7% of all state system cases.
West Chester University has a total of 32 cases (1.6%) as of the end of September with student and faculty numbers combined. WCU changed its reporting method on Sept. 18 to count on students and faculty members who reported on campus within the past 14 days. The university has not reported any new cases in the months of October and November.
In contrast with the total COVID-19 cases in the state of Pennsylvania, the 2,031 cases represented throughout the PASSHE system are only about 0.71% of the over 288,000 statewide cases. Additionally, there were over 6,000 new cases reported on Nov. 18 alone in Pennsylvania.
When it comes to reporting positive COVID-19 cases in the campus community, each university takes a different approach to doing so, and that approach may have changed throughout the semester. However, all 14 PASSHE schools are similar in the fact that they separate student and faculty cases.
Only some of the universities differentiate between on- and off- campus cases, including Bloomsburg, California, Indiana, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville and Shippensburg Universities.
At the SRSGA formal meeting on Monday, Behre said Shippensburg University is doing more face-to-face than Slippery Rock, and yet they have fewer cases than we do.
“[Shippensburg] has a local government that honestly has cracked down on parties a little more than our local government has,” Behre said.
Bloomsburg University has “The Husky Safe Seven” showcased on its COVID-19 dashboard. Graphics and pictures accompany the health and safety reminders to tell students to always wear a face covering, wash their hands frequently, practice good health habits, always social distance and monitor your health daily.
BU also states on its dashboard that the Office of the Dean of Students is committed to “protect the pack” and therefore takes all violations of the Student Code of Conduct “very seriously,” including violating health and safety COVID-19 protocols.
As of press time, Bloomsburg is the only university to list the consequences of violating COVID-19 protocols on their website. There are seven students who have lost housing privileges, two that are currently on interim suspension and one student that is currently suspended.
Similar to the way it was in the beginning of the semester, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Lock Haven and Slippery Rock do not separate on- and off-campus student cases. Lock Haven and Indiana University of Pennsylvania are the only two universities that do not specify if the cases are student or faculty.
Only three universities (East Stroudsburg, Indiana and Kutztown Universities) explicitly list the number of recovered cases on their COVID-19 dashboards. As of press time, East Stroudsburg has zero recovered cases, Indiana has 359 and Kutztown has 372.
However, five schools (Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville and Shippensburg Universities) explicitly display their active cases in their campus community on their respective COVID-19 dashboards. As of press time, Indiana has 60 active cases, Kutztown has 14, Lock Haven has 9, Millersville has 10 and Shippensburg has 92.
Of the 14 PASSHE schools, 10 universities offer testing on-campus at their respective health centers. The universities that provide testing are Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock Universities.
Four of the universities (California, East Stroudsburg, Mansfield and West Chester Universities) refer students to their own healthcare providers off campus. WCU specifically suggests that students contact the Chester County Health Department and other commercial facilities to get tested.
PASSHE has yet to announce any framework for the spring 2021 semester like they did for fall 2020.