Editor’s note: All data regarding coronavirus case numbers was collected on Sept. 24 at 10 a.m. For the most up-to-date cases numbers, click here for SRU’s COVID-19 dashboard or access a university’s dashboard using its website.
Between the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), over 90,000 students waited this summer for their respective universities to release a plan for the fall 2020 semester.
Prior to each university’s announcement, however, the Board of Governors approved a framework developed by the Office of the Chancellor for each of its universities. This framework was approved in June and includes recommendations for students, employees and non-essential business-related travel.
In this framework, each university had to consider the following requirements to complement state and federal guidance:
- Implement critical health and safety measures
- Require all individuals to adhere to health and safety rules, such as wearing a face covering, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings
- Require students and employees to follow protocols for self-reporting
- Manage employee requests for adjusted work arrangements
- Require questions to adhere to university guidance
Outside of this framework and regular meetings with each university, PASSHE administrators largely allowed each university to develop its own fall plan, according to Dave Pidgeon, director of public relations for PASSHE.
“Every school has its own infrastructure, its own capabilities, so it made sense to provide a system-wide guidance to follow CDC guidelines and the [state and federal] Department of Health guidelines,” Pidgeon said. “We also thought it vital to provide the universities the space that they needed to create fall semester plans that made sense for their universities.”
Prior to the start of the semester, four schools (California, Clarion, Edinboro and West Chester) announced a mostly online model in which an on-campus presence would be limited experiential learning components only. These may include clinicals and student teaching assignments.
In addition to these four schools, Bloomsburg University recently announced that all classes will be held online for the rest of the semester. The university originally moved its session I and session II classes online and delayed an announcement about the status of session III classes, which begin on Oct. 7.
Lock Haven was the only other university to completely move classes online during the semester in response to a 4.9% positivity rate recorded on Aug. 31. Limited face-to-face instruction resumed Monday, and voluntary testing options are available this week to ensure results are processed in time.
According to Pidgeon, Bloomsburg and Lock Haven are examples of universities who adjusted plans with guidance from Chancellor Daniel Greenstein’s office.
“[Our universities] also have, in their plans and abilities, the opportunities to modify those plans and to do so quickly if necessary,” Pidgeon said. “You’ve seen that at Bloomsburg, you’ve seen that at Lock Haven, so that’s an important note too, that in consultation with the Office of the Chancellor, they also have the space that they need to make a choice if they need to.”
The other universities–including Slippery Rock, Indiana and Shippensburg–introduced a hybrid model in which select classes were permitted to meet on campus. While the majority of classes for these are online, these universities planned for hybrid courses that could be held on campus.
However, the differences between the 14 reopening plans go beyond the status of in-person classes.
While the course of the semester for the universities holding in-person classes and experiential learning experiences is unknown due to the nature of the pandemic, Pidgeon said that the “playbook,” or each university’s plan to respond to the pandemic, is continuously changing as the pandemic shifts.
“This is our second semester in the midst of a once in a century global pandemic,” Pidgeon said. “We are writing the playbook as this pandemic continues to unfold, which means that we have to be open to lessons to be learned.”
As of Tuesday morning, there were a total of 1,137 cases reported between 13 universities (Cheyney University is the only PASSHE school that has not reported any cases of COVID-19).
Bloomsburg University has the highest number of cases in the state system at 352 total cases, or 31% of all cases in the state system, leading to the university’s announcement to move the remainder of the fall semester online.
Kutztown University has the second-highest number of cases, recording 303 cases (or 26.6% of all state system cases) on Thursday morning. Indiana reported 155 cases (10.1%) while Slippery Rock has 95 (8.4%) and West Chester has 79 cases (6.9%). Lock Haven reported 85 cases during this same date.
These six universities attribute to 1,069 cases represented throughout PASSHE.
Millersville’s case count is significantly smaller than these universities at 39 cases, or 3.4% of all PASSHE cases. California, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Mansfield and Shippensburg have seven or fewer cases, collectively contributing to less than 3% of all state system cases.
Slippery Rock University President William Behre stated that it is too soon to compare SRU’s response to local universities because of varied start times to the semester. However, he expressed optimism when comparing SRU’s numbers to national statistics.
“If you look at the national landscape when it comes to COVID cases, I think we’re doing well,” Behre said. “A lot of schools of comparable size are two or three times where we are, some of them even more, so from that perspective, I am feeling good about where we are, but I would love our new cases to go down to zero for a few weeks.”
For the 13 PASSHE schools reporting cases, each school is approaching their dashboard websites differently. All schools have separate numbers for student and staff/faculty cases.
However, for student cases, only some schools are separating between on and off-campus cases. These schools include California, Indiana, Kutztown, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester.
As of press time, Slippery Rock, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro and Lock Haven do not differentiate between on and off-campus student cases. Lock Haven is the only PASSHE school to not list student and faculty/staff cases in different counts.
While SRU does not currently specify on and off-campus cases, Behre stated that the vast majority of positive cases were from off-campus students.
“You can count it on less than one hand at this point what’s been on campus,” Behre said. “If people are worried about it because they want to see if it’s clustering in our residence halls, the answer is no, it’s not. If it’s something where we think we really have to add that to our dashboard, I think we’d be open to that.”
In addition, Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown and Indiana all list the number of people who recovered from COVID-19. According to Kutztown University President Kenneth Hawkinson, that university started to add recovery data in response to a request for additional data surrounding current cases.
“Since the third week of August, we have been reporting our total cases both on and off campus,” Hawkinson said in a letter to the Kutztown University community. “We have received requests for additional data surrounding our current cases, and are working toward making more information available in the near future. Thankfully, we have begun to release students who have recovered from quarantine or isolation, and will be doing so on a daily basis.”
Indiana is the only PASSHE school that lists the number of isolation beds available on its dashboard website.
Throughout the state, 11 PASSHE schools advertise the ability to test students on campus or order tests. Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Millersville, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock either offer testing for the coronavirus on campus or have the ability to order tests for students.
The remaining three universities–California, Mansfield and West Chester, refer students to their own healthcare provider. West Chester specifically lists the Chester County Health Department and commercial testing facilities as options for students to explore off campus.
According to PASSHE’s framework for the fall 2020 semester, university officials must advise individuals experiencing symptoms “to consult with their medical provider about options for testing and necessary treatment.” The five-page document doesn’t list requirements for universities to offer testing options on site.
As of Thursday, SRU has received the results of 110 tests. According to Kristina Benkeser, director of SRU Student Health Services, 110 tests have been ordered for the Student Health Center since the beginning of the semester.