Kutztown University is remaining open for in-person classes, university officials said Thursday, Sept. 3, in the wake of 26 students and one employee testing positive for the coronavirus within that past week.
The university reopened on Aug. 24 with a plan that includes face-to-face as well as virtual classes.
The college set COVID-19 protocols for students and faculty to follow that include social distancing, wearing masks and routinely using hand sanitizer. The desks are 6 feet apart and all in-person classes are in large halls.
But when the students arrived on campus, some students violated the protocols by playing basketball on campus and attending crowded social gatherings off campus, and some students did not wear masks, officials said.
“People weren’t social distancing and wearing masks,” Matthew Santos, university spokesman, said. “Our biggest jump in cases was last weekend.”
Santos said that if the number of cases continues to rise, university officials will revisit the decision to open the campus.
“For now, school is open,” Santos said. “We are continuing to evaluate the situation. We are monitoring it closely.”
There are 2,900 students living on campus, and an additional 600 commuting.
Most of the classes are online only, and 39 percent are a mixture of online and in-person. About 5 to 6 percent of the classes are in-person only.
Santos said that to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the university shut down all basketball courts and eliminated in-person athletic activities.
The students were participating in informal sports on campus, because last month the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference canceled fall sports to prevent the spread of the virus.
Students who develop symptoms are required to contact the Student Health and Wellness Center.
Santos said his son, Brett, 23, is one of the students who tested positive and is in quarantine along with the other students. The university set aside a dorm for quarantine.
Santos said he was tested and is awaiting the results.
The university is working with the state Department of Health and the Co-County Wellness Center, 429 Walnut St., Reading, on contact tracing to determine who was in contact with the individuals who tested positive.
Barbara N. Waller, wellness center director, said so far the center has received notification of one case from Kutztown University.
The department refers cases to the agency, and the agency staffers notify everyone who was in contact with the infected individual to quarantine for 10 days.
The party problem
Santos said the surge in cases likely stems from off-campus parties.
The weekend of Aug. 29 and 30, off-campus parties were held in the borough, prompting complaints from residents.
“I am concerned that there are big parties at night,” Kutztown Mayor James F. Schlegel said Thursday, Sept. 3. “There are parties going on and the police can’t do anything about it. We have to do what is necessary to protect the people.”
Borough Council voted 5-1 on Thursday, Sept. 3, to advertise a temporary emergency ordinance to limit social gatherings to 10 in a residence. Violations result in civil fines ranging from $100 to $600, the mayor said.
Councilman Zebulon Hull voted against the ordinance.
Council is scheduled to meet virtually at 5 p.m. on Sept. 11 to vote on final approval of the ordinance, which is similar to several in Pennsylvania college towns, including State College, Indiana and Lewisburg. If enacted, the ordinance would be effective until Jan. 31.
Kevin J. Snyder, council president, said if everyone follows proper protocols, the pandemic will end.
“We all have to do the right thing,” he said. “If everyone stays home, it will go away.”
Dr. Derek Mace, a council member and KU professor, said, “The goal is to reduce virus transmissions by limiting large gatherings and requiring mask-wearing when individuals can’t physically distance themselves from one another.”
The primary concern is for the well-being of the student-residents who are infected and their loved ones, he said.
“When any of our residents are infected, it raises the concern for everyone else in the community,” Mace said.
Dr. Dan Spiegel, a KU computer science professor and spokesman for the faculty union, said he is teaching virtually, and it’s working well.
Spiegel said he would have preferred if the university planned better for the start of school.
“They did not consult the faculty,” he said. “It’s too late. Now, people got sick. If one person is sick, that is too many.”
Spiegel said everyone should be wearing a mask.
“I saw people on the basketball court playing and not wearing a mask,” he said.