Berks County registered a spring-pandemic-like 79 coronavirus cases Saturday in state Department of Health reporting, at least somewhat driven by the Kutztown University outbreak finally registering significantly in the statistics.

It was the highest daily amount since May 10 and propelled the county outbreak total to 6,521 cases. Fourteen of the 79 cases were credited to the 19530 ZIP code, Kutztown, which includes the borough, the college and the surrounding countryside.

KU said Friday that it believes most of the 186 cases it has reported are students living on campus, in the borough or otherwise near the borough, and that there or few or none in the category of online students at their home addresses.

The 19530 ZIP has seen a 109 increase since Sept. 3. It's unclear if the ZIP has cases other than KU students, as well.

The university said students at home addresses would not be required to report a positive but if they did, it would be counted for the college. The state has said the case would be counted in the home ZIP. 

It was unclear from ZIP data at the state website where the other 65 cases rang up Saturday.

The county's 14-day average was raised to 36 by the Saturday total. Berks crossed the 30 threshold on Aug. 19 on the way up after being lower for nearly two months.

The average smooths the daily ups and downs associated with the uneven returns of test results, and the past week has been a roller coaster ride of results statewide.   

The week that was

A weekly update from the health department showed Berks cases continuing nearly unchanged from week to week: a minus 5 last week from the prior week on the heels of plus one. Overall the state was down nearly 500 cases for that reporting week.

The weeks run from Friday to Thursday for those stats.

The week of Aug. 28 through Sept. 3 saw the big hits from the Bloomsburg University and Temple University outbreaks. The week of Sept. 4 through 10 contained the University Park upswing but not the nearly 300 cases added Friday.

The Berks positivity rate was 4.9%, a tick below an appearance on a state watch list. Overall, Pennsylvania was up to 4.2% after bottoming out at 3.2% in mid-to-late August.

The state will no longer be providing Sunday updates on cases and other information. The Sunday update will be consolidated into the Monday update, the health department said.

Kutztown University

Last week the KU administration issued a newsletter to the students that was an overview of the outbreak and detailing plans.

Some of the excerpts:

About potentially changing course delivery: "The total number of cases is one factor in considering the overall situation. Also considered are the resources to serve sick students, number of positive employees, severity of cases and guidance from local and regional health and wellness officials."

How bad is it: "Most students testing positive have been classified as having a mild case of COVID-19. Their symptoms have been comparable to a bad cold. Still, the seriousness of the illness should not be downplayed, and students and employees should follow all health and wellness protocols."

About course delivery: "65 percent of classes are being taught online, either live online at the date and time they are scheduled, or on-demand at the time of the student's choosing. 30 percent of classes are hybrid … five percent of classes are face-to-face. Currently, there are approximately 2,300 students residing on campus."

About going online only: "There are some courses that are best conducted face-to-face. Every effort would be made to continue to offer those classes … with health and wellness as a priority."

If classes go online, would residence halls be closed: "(That) would totally depend on the status of active COVID-19 cases in the residence halls, and the ability to support the health and wellness of the students, and for the students to support social distancing and health and wellness protocols."

A tuition break, if online only: "While there are no details on specifics, a reimbursement plan, similar to what was developed in the spring, would be put in place for the fall."

The university is listing 183 student cases and three employees, with 59 recoveries. Much of the KU outbreak was traced to off-campus parties two weekends ago, but the college has also said there is community spread.

Other colleges

  • Bloomsburg University reported 23 new cases Friday night for an outbreak total of 307 students and two employees. The week ended with a total of 60, about half of each of the prior two weeks. There are 250 listed as recovered.
  • Penn State is reporting 708 total cases, with nearly all of them at University Park. That campus has 209 students in quarantine or isolation.
  • There are no cases at Penn State Berks, though 36 tests are outstanding and two students are in on-campus quarantine.
  • Alvernia University has no cases after 12 tests, up one Saturday.
  • Reading Area Community College remains virus free.
  • Albright College has still only had the one case. However there were two students in quarantine, up one Saturday.
  • The Temple University case total didn't budge last week at 368, with 253 active cases still isolated on campus on Saturday. 

Overall state report

The health department said Saturday that there were 920 new coronavirus cases statewide, and the outbreak reached 143,805.

York County led with 129 cases. It was not known where the Berks 79 fell.

Each day's report is a snapshot of the prior day.

Saturday's report was gleaned from 28,365 test results, an above-average number for the second day in a row following a week of below-average returns.

A record number of test results, 30,855, was reported Friday. That was only the third time in the outbreak that the 30,000 plateau has been reached.

In the past week, the daily return of test results has been as low as 16,000. Typically, 22,000 to 25,000 daily returns is the average range.    

The state added 25 deaths Saturday, pushing the outbreak total to 7,862. None were of Berks residents.

The death toll for Berks residents has been steady at 385 for five days. The coroner's office remains at 375 deaths, including 16 nonresidents.

Centre and Columbia counties — University Park and Bloomsburg — are the only counties on the state's list of "substantial spread" risk. Berks remains "moderate."

The following reminders from the health department:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow.
  • Clean surfaces frequently.
  • Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if showing symptoms.
  • If going out, wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing.
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