As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise across Indiana County, new cases of infection are being found on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus.
“IUP has been notified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health that 49 members of the IUP campus community, all students, have tested positive for COVID-19 from Sept. 15 through Sept. 17,” university Executive Director of Media Relations Michelle Fryling said Friday.
“A total of 13 of the students identified as COVID-19 positive during this time period live in on-campus housing,” Fryling said. “Thirty-six are students who reside in off-campus housing in Indiana County.”
She said 15 students on this latest list are self-isolating on campus while 34 is doing so away from campus. In both cases, she said, the students are following the required response protocol as recommended by health care professionals who are treating them.
Additionally, the IUP community was urged in a statement Fryling issued Friday, “if you are contacted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for contact tracing, it is extremely important that you cooperate and provide accurate information.”
It’s uncertain whether the new IUP cases have been counted in the state’s pandemic statistics for Indiana County. However, as noted recently by state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, “we know that congregation, especially in college and university settings, yields increased case counts.”
As of Friday the state health department was reporting 605 cases in Indiana County.
“Dr. Levine shared that Pennsylvania is seeing significant increases in COVID-19 cases in 19- to 24-year-olds throughout the state,” health department spokesman Nate Wardle said. ”We need college students to help stop the spread of this virus right in its tracks.”
Wardle also noted that, “on the (state’s) Early Warning Monitoring Dashboard, which was just updated, Indiana County saw nine more cases this week than last week, an incidence rate that went up and a PCR percent positivity above 10.”
PCR refers to the Polymerise Chain Reaction test, a way that global health care systems are testing citizens for COVID-19. The state health department sees any positivity rate over 5 percent as an area for concern.
“We will be continuing to monitor this data and determine if there are steps that are necessary in the county,” Wardle said.
The COVID-19 dashboard on the IUP website, which is updated each Tuesday and Friday, shows a total of 136 confirmed cases among students and university employees since Aug. 15, including 54 who have recovered.
Fryling said there was no indication of any possible change in the current hybrid planning for classes at IUP.
However, in the university’s statement Friday morning, Fryling said, “if the cases of coronavirus escalate in the Indiana community and in Indiana County, we may be forced to change how IUP continues this semester.”
As for disciplining or deterring students, faculty and/or staff who engage in risky behavior, Fryling said, “We will continue to message students about safe and healthy behaviors, and students or groups who are referred to our Office of Community Standards and Student Support will face appropriate action.”
As has been the case since IUP began posting its COVID-19 dashboards, the university provides no details regarding the identity of individuals who test positive.
It also regularly seeks to remind everyone of the critical importance of following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and guidelines for safety.
“Wear a face covering while inside or when social distancing outside is not possible,” Fryling said. “Practice social distancing at all times; increase thorough hand washing; and avoid large gathering, both inside and outside. These guidelines should be followed at all times on and off-campus.”