With new coronavirus cases showing up at Temple University and other schools that reopened last week, Philadelphia health officials issued new advice on Saturday that students should avoid all social contact with people outside their homes or apartments.

As of Friday, more than 250 new cases had been reported at newly reopened campuses in Pennsylvania.

Temple, the city’s largest university with nearly 40,000 full- or part-time students, agreed to ban gatherings of any size and help spread the word. Just before 8 p.m. Saturday, the school sent out this text to thousands of students: “City health officials have issued new guidelines. Temple is directing students to avoid all social gatherings in order to limit the spread COVID-19. New COVID cases are coming from even small gatherings.”

The new recommendations for college students from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health are stricter than the current coronavirus guidelines, which allows gatherings of 25 or fewer people indoors (with masks, six-foot distancing, and handwashing).

The guidelines will instead treat colleges like nursing homes, which are urged to keep residents from joining even small gatherings.

The city still considers there to be a “high risk of community transmission,” though cases have been falling and the city’s staggered reopening continues, with some indoor dining, movie theaters, and other venues permitted to reopen, with restrictions, on Sept. 8.

Health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley recommended the stricter guidelines after his department learned that students who tested positive suspect they became infected at intimate, private gatherings.

“We were looking for large parties, and we didn’t find that. It was the small gatherings” students attended that were the likely source, the commissioner said.

Farley said Philadelphia was hoping to be proactive, and prevent the outbreaks suffered in other college towns. Michigan State, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, and other universities have reported hundreds of cases after students attended large, unauthorized parties in the first days of the fall semester.

Farley acknowledged the difficulty for students who have been looking forward to their college experience. “A lot of what makes college an experience we all like is the social opportunities, the small gatherings, the long conversations,” he said. ”Unfortunately with this epidemic, that brings with it the risk, not only to the students, but to the larger community.”

The new guidance for college students is much closer to Pennsylvania’s “red” stay-at-home social guidelines, and stricter than the “yellow” phase.

But unlike the current ban on large gatherings, the new guidance isn’t a law; it’s up to institutions to enact and enforce the policy, said city spokesperson Dan Garrow.

So how will schools enforce the new guidelines?

At Temple, “if we find students who continue to have social gatherings, we will break them up as we have larger gatherings,” which the city already banned, said spokesperson Ray Betzner. Students told of the earlier ban have been cooperative, and anyone who defies the wider ban would face discipline, he added, though he declined to provide details about what that might entail.

After testing more than 5,000 students and staff, Temple reported 58 cases Friday, including 52 students at its North Philadelphia campus. That’s up from 10 at Temple Monday, when classes resumed.

St. Joseph’s University reported another 12 cases.

Outside the city, Penn State said Friday it had 31 cases of coronavirus, plus 25 people in isolation and 19 in quarantine as a precaution.

Bloomsburg University, one of Pennsylvania’s 14 state colleges, canceled most live classes after identifying 118 cases among students, plus an employee.

Villanova University reported 13 cases, nine of them at the school’s Main Line campus.

Other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, LaSalle, and Chestnut Hill, have shut dorms and classrooms. But some undergraduates and graduate students who paid for off-campus apartments have arrived in University City and other neighborhoods. Farley hopes those colleges will also act to ban all gatherings, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The new guidance for college students is much closer to Pennsylvania’s “red” stay-at-home social guidelines, and stricter than the “yellow” phase.

But unlike the current ban on large gatherings, the new guidance isn’t a law; it’s up to institutions to enact and enforce the policy, said city spokesperson Dan Garrow,

If students are in situations where they can’t avoid people they don’t live with, the city recommends practicing social-distancing measures, including staying at least six feet from the nearest person, frequent handwashing, and getting tested if they feel sick or know they have been in contact with others who have tested positive. More information about the current guidelines at phila.gov/COVID.

New city guidance for college students

  • Avoid all social gatherings with people outside your household.
  • If you can’t avoid people you don’t live with, practice social-distancing measures including maintaining six feet of distance from others, wearing a mask, and frequent handwashing.
  • Get tested if you experience symptoms or know you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.