Penn State again set a 12-month high in weekly COVID cases with 523 confirmed infections last week at University Park, following regional and national trends around the surging omicron variant.
Based on data from Jan. 10-16, which was published Tuesday, University Park saw 442 student infections and 81 employee cases — a 20.5% increase, or 89 cases more, over the previous record-breaking week. Prior to this month, the previous 12-month high was 326 weekly cases in January 2021.
The last two weeks, which coincide with students returning to campus, have seen a significant increase compared to the last year at Penn State. From April 5, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022, University Park never experienced more than 200 weekly COVID cases. In fact, during that 39-week time period, 24 weeks saw fewer than 50 cases.
But those cases have picked up since the omicron variant first appeared at University Park. Since Valentine’s Day last year, University Park’s positivity rate never peaked above 5.2% — until the university announced the detection of omicron Dec. 20. Since then, the weekly positivity rates have been at 10.2%, 13%, 10.5% and 7.1%, respectively.
The most recent positivity rate of 7.1% is a notable decrease, but weekly cases still rose because more than twice as many students were tested last week over the week before.
Still, University Park is hardly an anomaly when it comes to COVID-19. Over the last three weeks, Centre County has experienced the pandemic’s nine highest single-day case totals. And the county’s positivity rate of 28.6% — based on state Department of Health data from Jan. 7-13 — is more than quadruple the rate of University Park. Nationally, the U.S. also set a record last week with 1.35 million cases in a single day.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Sunday that “parts of the Northeast” are starting to see a plateau but noted “the entire country is not moving at the same pace.”
While other colleges and universities, like Pitt, chose to move to remote learning for the first few weeks of the spring semester to avoid the pandemic’s potential peak, Penn State opted to move forward with its original plan of in-person learning. University President Eric Barron said they believed they could do so “safely but carefully,” which drew ire from many students and faculty.
Nearly 90% of Penn State students and employees have told the university they’re vaccinated.
The university’s weekly caseload has still not reached its own all-time peak, before the vaccine, when weekly cases approached 700 in fall 2020.
Penn State will update its COVID dashboard every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the semester. It can be found at virusinfo.psu.edu/covid-19-dashboard/.