A Walk Around Campus, Steeple of Old Main

The steeple of Old Main peeps over the top of the Pond Laboratory on Penn State's University Park, Pa. campus on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. On sunny days, the southward path beginning at the Forum Building offers scenic views of the surrounding valley and mountains.

Penn State President Eric Barron hosted a virtual town hall Tuesday to discuss Penn State's pandemic response for the upcoming fall semester.

"I'm very much looking forward to welcoming you all back to campus in a few weeks," Barron said. "While we look forward to a fall experience that's closer to what we've had, we have to remember that we are still in the midst of a pandemic."

Barron stated the university "is not impartial" to vaccinations but is not requiring them at this time while following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance for further decisions.

"I'm eager for the return of students back to campus, but I want to make sure that no one is left out. I strongly encourage everyone to receive a vaccine," Barron said. "While we are not currently requiring vaccinations, we are encouraging everyone that is able to to become vaccinated."

This response comes after Penn State's University Park Undergraduate Association and Graduate and Professional Student Association, as well as the greater Penn State community signed open letters calling for administration to mandate the coronavirus vaccine.

The virtual town hall featured Penn State University leaders to answer moderated questions about the updated plans.

Damon Sims, vice president for Penn State Student Affairs, released the results of the student vaccination status survey, stating 77% of students who filled out the survey are vaccinated.

"Over 85,000 students received the survey, and we have heard from 54% at University Park," Sims said.

Sims said student organizations are "important" to the Penn State experience after hearing "disappointment from many students" about last year's decisions.

"We want to be fully engaged, but we need to return safely," Sims said.

Lorraine Goffe, vice president of human resources and co-chair of the Return to Work Task Group, stated the results of the employee survey.

"The survey was sent to over 35,000 faculty, and we've heard from 56%," Goffe said. "Ninety-six percent of them responded they are vaccinated."

Goffe said employees "should not ask their peers" if they are vaccinated, but supervisors will be permitted to ask to ensure masking protocols are being followed. Supervisors will not be able to share anyone's status with others, Goffe said.

Kelly Wolgast, director of the Penn State COVID-19 Operations Control Center, said the university "wants people to upload their status" by Aug. 9.

"It's really important for us to keep an eye on this virus," Wolgast said. "Students who have not been vaccinated or shared vaccine information with us will be notified when they need to test, and there will be significant consequences for those who do not comply."

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Barron said the university will update masking protocols based on new information from the CDC.

According to the plan, Wolgast said the university will monitor the county percentages in accordance with the CDC to determine if vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals will be masked indoors.

"When a campus shifts into a region with greater transmission, a higher level of risk mitigation will be followed," Wolgast said. "At University Park, we track the amount of hospitalizations because it's important to look at how the campus is affecting the local community."

Wolgast said the university is encouraging everyone to remain masked indoors, but currently only unvaccinated individuals are required to wear them. She also said Penn State's Office of Physical Plant has upgraded safety features within building facilities, which exceed the current safety guidelines.

The university will provide quarantine and isolation spots on campus or near campus at each Penn State campus, and walk-up and drop-in testing will be available for students who are symptomatic or asymptomatic, according to Wolgast.

Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones said the university "will not provide remote options" for students who have to quarantine or go into isolation.

"Our plans are to offer a fully in-person experience, and there will not be remote options for students who have to quarantine, which is another reason to get vaccinated," Jones said. "The majority of those students who are unable to get vaccinated have the option to switch to World Campus, but we are asking our faculty to be flexible with students who have to quarantine."

Jones said there will be mandatory weekly testing of unvaccinated students and faculty and testing on arrival for unvaccinated students living in residence halls.

"It is up to all of you, and we are confident that we remain humble in the face of this virus," Jones said. "If everyone follows our guidance and policies, we are focused on providing as many opportunities as possible."

Goffe said there are mental health resources available because "this is a stressful time."

Sims added the Counseling and Psychological Services are available for students as a resource throughout these times.

"One thing is different this year is that we have vaccines, but if you are fully vaccinated and exposed, then you are to be tested 2-5 days after exposure and wear a mask for 14 days," Sims said. "I want students to know that we are excited for your return, and there is abundant guidance we are providing today about next steps."

Lastly, Barron said the university "will continue to monitor" and will take further steps "if warranted or necessary."

"If you are not vaccinated, please do as soon as possible together,'' Barron said. "We can make this semester a great success."

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