Temple ramps up COVID-19 mitigation effort amid high case count

The university has taken precautionary measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19 on campus ahead of students’ return for in-person classes.

As of Jan. 14, there were 555 active COVID-19 cases among Temple University students and employees during the week of Jan. 9, the highest weekly case count the university reported since January 2021, according to the university’s vaccine and case dashboard

Temple’s cases have increased since the beginning of winter break, jumping from 59 cases during the week of Dec. 12, 2021 to 534 cases reported during the week of Jan. 2, nearly a week before the Spring 2022 semester was set to begin. The university reported 224 new cases so far this week, according to the dashboard. 

Although Temple did not track cases during the week of Dec. 26, the university’s reopening of COVID-19 testing sites on Jan. 3 revealed a surge in cases that coincides with the rise of the Omicron variant. The variant was first confirmed in Philadelphia on Dec. 3 and now accounts for a majority of the city’s new cases. 

The City of Philadelphia reported 1,299 new cases on Jan. 13, more than double the 613 new cases reported on Dec. 13, 2021, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard.

The contact tracing unit also tracks students who upload results from at-home COVID-19 tests to the Patient Health Portal, said Kara Reid, the university’s contact tracing manager. 

The unit expects the university to experience a spike in cases when students arrive for in-person classes on Jan. 24, similar to the increase seen when in-person classes resumed in August 2021, Reid said. She is hopeful the spike will end in mid to late February, similar to how Fall cases stabilized in mid-October 2021.  

The contact tracing process includes interviewing students who test positive for COVID-19 to identify the people they were in close contact with and the risk the contacts may have for contracting the virus. The unit will add two contact tracers — for a total of six full-time employees — next week, Reid said. 

During winter break, the contact tracing unit tracked all close contacts of students they were able to interview, Reid said. Currently, tracers are interviewing roughly 15 to 20 people per day. 

“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to call every student given our increase in cases,” Reid said. “But we’re still getting a good majority of students that were able to interview.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on Dec. 27 that people who contract COVID-19 isolate for five days if they are asymptomatic or if their symptoms are resolving. After isolating, they should continue wearing a mask for five additional days. 

Temple’s contact tracing unit is encouraging students to monitor their symptoms if they test positive for COVID-19 so they know when to stop isolating. 

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Temple is holding the first two weeks of the spring semester remotely, The Temple News reported. The university also delayed move-in days for most students living in residence halls to Jan. 22 and is requiring students get tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours of their arrival. 

Nicolle Majette, a senior journalism major who is taking classes online and working remotely, thinks Temple made the right decision in holding the first two weeks of classes remotely, she said. 

“It’s always nerve-racking to hear about cases going up anywhere, but especially in such a densely populated area, such as Philadelphia and especially just Temple, the Temple community,” Majette said.

The university required all students and employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15, and has encouraged, not mandated, booster doses of the vaccine.  

Temple is also encouraging students to get tested before returning to campus and tripled testing at Morgan Hall for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, wrote Mark Denys, senior director of student and employee health services, in an email to The Temple News.

Anna Stopfel, a senior media studies and production major, wants Temple to require testing for everyone, even if they are fully vaccinated, she said. 

“In order to fully protect everyone in the student population, we need to be testing as much as we can,” she said. “Even if it’s just like once every other week or something if that’s all Temple can afford.” 

Devon Russell contributed reporting.

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