Two weeks into classes, Temple University on Friday had 107 cases of the coronavirus.
That’s less than half the number it had on Sept. 3 last year, the day the university decided to revert to mostly remote instruction for the rest of the semester.
The numbers are encouraging, given that more students are living on campus this year than last year and that most classes are in person. The 37,000-student university also has conducted more testing this year than last year. The positivity rate is 1.3%, compared with 7% last year, said Mark Denys, director of health services at Temple.
“Things are heading in the right direction now,” Denys said. “We’re about where we thought we would be.”
Also helping this year is that more than three-quarters of staff and students are vaccinated against COVID-19, he estimates, with more to be vaccinated as an Oct. 15 deadline set by the City of Philadelphia looms. More than 30,000 students and staff already have uploaded their cards, which Temple staff are verifying, and more are sending the information daily, he said.
About half of the positive cases this year are occurring among the vaccinated, Denys said. Most who have tested positive are showing mild or no symptoms, he said.
Elsewhere, case count comparisons vary.
At Villanova University, where 95% of students and staff are vaccinated, there were 43 active cases as of Friday. That’s only one more than last year on Sept. 3, but classes also started six days later this year. That prompted the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, Villanova’s president, to send a message to the campus Friday.
“Our numbers are higher than I would like to see,” he wrote. “Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, I am implementing enhanced mitigation efforts effective immediately to slow this trend.”
All employees and students, regardless of vaccination status, are being asked to wear masks in classrooms and other campus buildings open to the public, he said. The university had only been asking those unvaccinated and partially vaccinated to wear them. Villanova also will expand its random testing of students and employees, regardless of vaccination status, he said.
Numbers also were a bit higher at St. Joseph’s University. The university had 24 cases of COVID-19, compared with 16 last year, but none of the cases is in the residence halls, said Kelly Welsh, a St. Joe’s spokesperson. Ninety percent of students and staff are vaccinated and masks are required indoors, she said.
“Things are going very well on campus,” she said. “All classes are being taught in person. Our facilities are operating at full capacity. Our athletics teams are training and competing and we are hosting more activities and events.”
At Pennsylvania State University, masks are required; vaccination is strongly encouraged and testing is mandatory for those who don’t provide proof of it. But things are better this year.
“We are seeing fewer positive COVID-19 test results than we did last year at University Park at this time, and we believe that the high rates of vaccination indicated among our students and full-time employees — 80% and 83%, respectively — will have a continued positive impact on the number of cases we see this fall,” university spokesperson Lisa Powers said.
Penn State has had 99 positive cases, or a 1.2% positivity rate in the last seven days, according to its coronavirus dashboard. Last year there were 362, or a positivity rate of 6.8%.
Bloomsburg University, which requires masks, reverted to remote instruction less than two weeks into the semester last year. It had 49 cases as of Wednesday, compared with 219 cases as of the same time last year. Students had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before moving in.
“We are pleased with how both students and employees are adhering to the protocols in place,” said Bloomsburg spokesperson Tom McGuire. “It is evident that we all want to end the semester as we began — in person.”
Bradley Smutek, president of Temple student government, said students are thrilled to be back. Sophomores are saying this year represents what they thought college would be like, he said.
“Campus is a lot livelier,” he said. “There’s a lot more energy than there was last year.”
He said most students are complying with mask mandates and in rare cases when they put up a fight, they “don’t win,” he said.
Both Denys and Will J. Jordan, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, said mask compliance appears to be high.
Still, faculty are cautious, but certainly more confident this year, given the availability of vaccines, Jordan said.
“For the overwhelming majority of members who are vaccinated, they do have some sense that they can control their fate,” he said. “They feel like they are not completely vulnerable.”
Laurence Steinberg, a Temple psychology professor, said he was pleased that vaccines will be mandated, thanks to the city, and that the university is testing those who aren’t vaccinated. Steinberg was critical of colleges’ reopening plans last year in a June 2020 New York Times opinion piece. He warned that the plans, which counted on students to wear masks and socially distance, bordered on “delusional.”
“They are taking charge in a way they hadn’t before, which is very good,” he said Friday.