Penn State, one of the nation’s largest universities, announced Friday that it would delay returning students to campus for the spring semester by at least four weeks, requiring them to take classes remotely during that time. The news came just two days after state officials advised colleges to delay in-person classes.
“Students are strongly discouraged from returning to campus, off-campus locations and group dwellings” during the remote learning period, which will begin on Jan. 19, and residence halls and campus dining facilities will be closed, except in extenuating circumstances, the university’s announcement said.
In-person classes could resume on Feb. 15, Penn State said, depending on health and safety conditions and guidance from the state.
The university, a sprawling system with nearly 90,000 students on campuses statewide, said it was taking the action because officials watching the trajectory of the pandemic were “very concerned with the current outlook across the country and the commonwealth.” Its main campus in State College, Pa., has reported more than 5,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times tracking effort — one of the largest campus-based clusters in the country.
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s health and education departments advised colleges across the state to delay the return of students to campus and start the spring semester virtually. The state said cases and hospitalizations are expected to peak in January or February, just as students would normally be returning, and could overwhelm the hospital system.
The shift in Pennsylvania comes even as many colleges say that they have learned lessons from the fall term, including the need for more robust testing, and feel confident about bringing more students back to campus than they did in the fall, and offering more face-to-face classes.
But the announcement by Penn State signals that some colleges could have second thoughts. The university said its decision was “in alignment” with the recommendation from state health and education authorities.
Penn State students returning to off-campus housing before Feb. 15 would have to be tested before their arrival, officials said, and the university plans an “augmented testing strategy,” including random daily surveillance testing, for the spring.
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