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PSU using hotels to quarantine students

Campus’ designated isolation spaces filled amid virus outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak at Penn State Altoona in the last three weeks has filled the campus’ designated spaces for isolation and quarantine, forcing administrators to send overflow students to local hotels, according to campus spokesman Jonathan O’Harrow.

There are 33 students in quarantine, segregated after potential exposure, although none of the 23 who tested positive — 17 of them with “active cases” — remain on campus in isolation, according to the Penn State Altoona COVID-19 online dashboard.

The outbreak led the college to establish a “pop-up, on-demand testing center” last weekend, according to O’Harrow.

That pop-up center tested 178 students Saturday and Sunday, O’Harrow wrote in an email.

The campus Health & Wellness Center provides testing to any student who asks during the week, according to O’Harrow.

There haven’t been any problems handling the demand, he said.

Penn State has been doing both random and on-demand testing, according to the dashboard.

The random testing has resulted in nine positives — 1.6 percent of those tested, according to the dashboard, which is updated Tuesdays and Fridays.

No campus employees have tested positive, according to the dashboard.

“With few exceptions,” students have been complying with requirements to wear masks all the time while inside and outside when 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained, O’Harrow said.

However, “both students and parents have expressed concerns regarding a lack of social distancing and mask wearing among community members who often walk on campus,” O’Harrow wrote.

The requirements apply to them, too, he said.

Adherence is especially necessary in high-traffic areas like “the track at Spring Run Stadium, the campus’s Reflecting Pond, and the academic quad in between classes,” O’Harrow wrote.

Students who commit COVID-19 violations of campus regulations or local or state laws are typically referred to the Office of Student Conduct, which will follow a “conduct process” that can lead to “sanctions, up to and including separation from the university,” O’Harrow wrote.

Large gatherings in violation of local ordinances are considered serious violations, he said.

There are 901 dorm rooms on campus, and during typical semesters, they’re filled, according to O’Harrow.

Currently, they’re at 77 percent capacity, he said.

“Robust contact tracing” is being used to locate “close contacts” of those who test positive, according to O’Harrow.

Those close contacts remain in quarantine for 14 days after the last encounter, he wrote.

Close contact means within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes, according to the state Department of Health.

Over the summer, campus leaders identified suitable isolation and quarantine spaces, which needed to have “proper airflow, access to restroom facilities, etc.” O’Harrow wrote.

Students who live off-campus are asked to isolate or quarantine at their residences, he wrote.

Staff members provide support to those in isolation or quarantine, wherever they are, according to O’Harrow.

At Penn State Altoona, 27 percent of courses are being held in-person, 44 percent online and the remainder with a mix of the two methods, according to O’Harrow.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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