Pennsylvania State University suffered a difficult football defeat to archrival Ohio State, 38-25, on Halloween night with a full moon overhead, but it wasn’t a complete loss.
Borough and university officials said there weren’t large social gatherings like those the previous weekend, when Penn State played at Indiana.
And in a pandemic where close contact can spread disease, those officials saw that as a win.
“It was about as good as we could ask for,” said Douglas Shontz, a spokesperson for State College borough.
He said that police issued a handful of citations on Saturday, but that none of the gatherings had more than 50 people and were typical of the kinds of parties the borough has had to break up on a regular weekend.
During the Indiana game on Oct. 24, borough police contended with three large off-campus parties at apartment buildings, each with 150 to 300 people in attendance, with minimal mask-wearing and no social distancing — in violation of a State College ordinance. Concerned the events were a harbinger of bigger problems to come on Halloween and could further spread the coronavirus, the borough and university sought the help of the off-campus apartment buildings, scanning video footage to find students who participated.
State College last week issued a news release with 60 photos of people captured on video participating in the gatherings and asked for help in identifying them. Those who participated could face fines and/or referral to the university for discipline. Shontz said within 24 hours, 42 of the people had been identified. Under the borough’s ordinance, which restricts social gatherings to no more than 10 people and requires mask-wearing, violators can face $300 fines.
The university supported the borough’s efforts, said Lawrence Lokman, vice president for strategic communications.
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“I do think these things help and can be a deterrent,” he said.
The university asked students living in the apartment buildings where gatherings occurred to get tested for the virus, Lokman said.
Since the semester began, Penn State’s University Park campus has recorded nearly 3,900 cases of coronavirus infection. Active cases began dropping in late September, but then trended higher in the last couple weeks. On Friday, active cases were about flat at 277, from the previous update on Tuesday. But hospitalizations in the community have been rising and borough and university officials were worried that the first home football game of the season, on Halloween night, might spark big parties.
Mayor Ronald Filippelli had said last month that his biggest fear was that Penn State would win and students would pour into the borough’s streets to celebrate, creating a super-spreader event.
“I’m glad we had no problems,” Filippelli said Sunday. “I feel much better.”
Shontz said ample parking remained in areas that typically are packed on a home football weekend, indicating that fewer people traveled to the borough. The university actively tried to discourage it.
Penn State prohibited tailgating on campus property, including outside Beaver Stadium. And no fans were allowed inside the stadium, other than family of players. The stadium typically holds more than 106,000. On Saturday night, it was filled with cardboard cutouts of fans. Alumni and students were able to purchase cutouts of themselves, with proceeds in part benefiting THON, the school’s dance marathon, which raises money to fight pediatric cancer.
The university held a socially distanced watch gathering for students at its lacrosse stadium. Students could come in pairs, sit apart, wear masks and watch the game on a big screen. About 400 attended, Lokman said.
Shontz, the borough spokesperson, said he appreciated the efforts of students who refrained from attending parties off campus.
“It’s tough,” he acknowledged. “There are things that people would rather be doing, but the pandemic is kind of controlling everyone’s lives.”