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Centre board discusses county’s COVID-19 spike

BELLEFONTE — A recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Centre County was on the minds of the Centre County Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

A total of 43 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Centre County on Sunday, nearly four times the previous largest single-day increase. Mount Nittany Health noticed an unusual spike in positives on Friday and contacted the state Department of Health. Likewise, chair of the BOC, Michael Pipe, reached out to the DOH for clarification.

“The request we made to them is ongoing. If we can get some sort of context on a daily basis about the type of cases we’re seeing from them, that would be appreciated,” Pipe said, “just because we have many different entities that are doing the testing, many entities that are doing the reporting, so that would be helpful as we go forward.”

According to authorities at Mount Nittany Health, they are resampling the tests and sending them directly to DOH. Results are expected later this week.

“We do know that Mount Nittany is in the process of re-testing some of the individuals that were within the results that were brought back that led them to believe that might be a higher than normal positivity rate. We’re waiting to see,” Pipe said.

Pipe was asked if the commissioners had faith in the DOH.

“We have worked with them since this began. I think they’ve been tremendously helpful. Due to the fact that we do not have a county health department, it makes it very difficult to have very close contact with them on a day-in, day-out basis. From my standpoint, I do have confidence in them. This is a difficult situation for everybody,” Pipe said.

The commissioners agreed that there is reason for concern as Penn State University students begin to return to University Park next month.

Some students came back during the weekend of July 10-12 — which would have been the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Although the popular arts festival was made a virtual event for this year, there were large numbers of visitors to downtown State College and long lines outside bars.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said that Penn State can aid in the battle against COVID-19.

“We have a world class research university right here in our backyard, so they’re going to be tracking things very closely,” Higgins said.

Higgins believes that residents of Centre County can set the example for fall.

“As we’ve been discussing here for weeks, we all need to wear a mask, we need to be socially distancing, especially indoors. If we have that as a standard way of operating here in Centre County, it’s more likely that the students will do the same. If the students come to an environment where some people wear masks, some people don’t, some people social distance, some people don’t, they’re going to do whatever they want to do,” Higgins said.

Fellow commissioner Steve Desherm agreed.

“We need to be responsible. We need to set a good example and understand that we have 40,000 students who are going to be coming into town who also have to have a measure of responsibility … it is absolutely important that everybody appreciate the fact that we do have some very, very uncharted waters ahead of us. So we need to figure out how we can get through this as simply and as safely as possible,” Dershem said.

Dershem said that the county needs to be prepared for the return of Penn State students.

“If we’re going to introduce 40,000 new people (to the county), we’re going to have some glitches in that … it’s pretty obvious. But it’s manageable, it’s controllable. The university is the lifeblood of our community and we need make sure that they continue to be that lifeblood,” he said.

As the students return, Pipe said that the county will be working hand-in-hand with Mount Nittany Health and the DOH to monitor the numbers and watch for more spikes in cases.

“We’ve made the argument to (the DOH) that Centre County is going to have an influx of the greatest amount of population in terms of the whole state when it comes to our numbers. We’re going to increase (in population) by more than 33 percent. That should be something from their standpoint that they should be monitoring,” Pipe said. “From our standpoint, what we’re asking the Department of Health to do for us is to do a daily briefing essentially, that we could receive … so we can be aware of certain cases climbing and what that looks like.”

Arrival days for Penn State students are Friday, Aug. 21 and Saturday, Aug. 22. Classes are scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 24.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at the Willowbank Building. The meeting will be televised live on C-NET.

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