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‘Tenuous time’ for all campuses

Centre County has become an unfortunate example of how higher education has recently been contributing to spikes in COVID-19. According to the Centre Daily Times in State College, the number of infections from March until the middle of August was 392 cases.

Then came Penn State University. Since Aug. 17, the county has seen an alarming 533 cases.

“You just have to be really careful right now; this is a really tenuous time,” said Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in an interview with the Centre Daily Times. “And I would not ignore these trends in these areas around University Park and State College because I do think there’s clear, consistent information here in multiple counties that the center of the state has heated up a bit.”

This is a reality every university community has been dealing with while reopening in an uncertain times with a diabolical virus. Some locations have been doing well, including Jamestown Community College that noted on Thursday they have no active cases and five students in isolation.

At Chautauqua County’s other major institution, State University of New York at Fredonia, the situation has been much more dire. Similar to Penn State, students began arriving there on Aug. 15.

On campus, there is a sense of order and safety as classrooms are limiting numbers and students are wearing facial coverings. It is what has been taking place on the outside of that environment that is the problem.

Until Aug. 30, there were only two cases. After a weekend of partying, numbers began to spike, hitting 79 total cases on Thursday.

On Sept. 1, 13 students were suspended due to what the Fredonia administration termed as violating the Student Code of Conduct relating to COVID-19 and off-campus events. “Gatherings and parties … we have found to be the one of the biggest sources of outbreaks of COVID-19,” said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras during a visit to the campus last weekend due to the outbreak. “I applaud the president for immediate and swift actions.”

Those increases put SUNY Fredonia in a notorious spotlight, which could have potentially mirrored what happened at the State University of New York at Oneonta. There, five students who were alleged to have served as hosts of large off-campus parties were suspended Aug. 29.

Within days, the virus spread like wildfire. As of Wednesday — 10 days since the suspensions were announced — there were 684 positive cases reported by the institution located in the northern Appalachian region.

Besides the campus going online, the infections have put that community at risk.

Oneonta, it should be noted, is a city of 13,000 residents. Looking at it one way, those large number of cases represent 5% of its population.

State College, unfortunately, is facing the same reality with its significant neighbor and economic engine.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and the OBSERVER in Dunkirk, N.Y. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111.

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