Philly health commissioner calls Temple COVID-19 cases an ‘outbreak’

Temple has reported 127 cases of COVID-19 among students.

Students move into Morgan Hall on Aug 18. On Sept. 1, two days after Temple announced its temporary suspension of in-person classes, the city health commissioner called the rising COVID-19 cases among students an 'outbreak.' | JEREMY ELVAS

Updated at 9:40 a.m. on 9/2/20

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city has concerns about an outbreak of COVID-19 among students at Temple University in a city press conference today. 

“There clearly is an outbreak occuring among Temple University students,” Farley said.

As of Sept. 1, Temple reported 127 active COVID-19 cases among students. The count has rapidly increased since students returned to campus for in-person classes last week.

Contact tracing shows most Temple students who were exposed to the virus were living in apartments off campus, many with three or more roommates, Farley said. The city attributes some outbreaks to small gatherings of students.

In the past two days, 32 percent of city cases are in the 20-29 age group, which Farley says reflects the outbreak at Temple, he said.

Temple students should assume that anyone around them is infected with COVID-19, Farley said. He said students should follow city guidance to wear a mask, stay home and only leave for essential errands. 

“Otherwise this outbreak could grow quickly through the rest of the campus and the rest of the city,” he said.

Philadelphia has averaged 95 COVID-19 cases a day over the past two weeks. The city’s own case count only includes Philadelphia residents, Farley said. Many Temple students report home addresses when getting tested for COVID-19, so the Philadelphia Department of Public Health expects city case numbers to rise as the city recategorizes them. 

In response to rising case counts, Temple announced Sunday it would move nearly all classes online for two weeks beginning Monday until Sept. 11, after reopening campus for a hybrid of in-person and online classes Aug. 24. 

The decision came a day after the city issued guidelines for students to not socialize with anyone outside of their households, prompting Temple to tell students to avoid all social gatherings.

“We are working closely with the city on our efforts regarding COVID-19,” wrote Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News. “You can see that from the alert we put out Saturday night and the decision we made Sunday to take a two-week pause. This is a serious situation and we are taking serious actions.”

On Monday, the Department of Public Health and Temple tested approximately 470 students, Farley said, at the Aramark STAR Complex. Results from the tests are expected later today or tomorrow, he added.

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