Temple University students living off campus should move back to where they stayed during the summer if they can, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a press conference today.
The recommendation comes in light of Temple moving nearly all classes online after a spike in student COVID-19 cases that followed the first week of in-person classes. As of Sept. 3, Temple reported 237 active COVID-19 cases, including its first employee testing positive during the fall semester.
“This will reduce the risk to those students, as well as to others across the city,” Farley said.
Temple’s announcement this morning came four days after the university announced it would suspend in-person classes for two weeks while reevaluating if in-person learning can be offered.
“I want to thank President Richard Englert and his team for what I know was a very difficult decision,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a press conference today. “I also want to thank the students, families, staff and faculty for their patience and diligence over the past several weeks.”
The city has been in contact with the university since Temple identified a rise in positive COVID-19 cases among students to help mitigate the spread, but it was ultimately Temple’s decision to keep most classes online, said James Garrow, the communications director at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
The city reported 166 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday, the second day in a row with high case counts, Farley said. Among the positive test results, 31 percent were in ages 20-29 and 25 percent were in ages 10-19.
The city does not have a complete count of the amount of students tested positive with COVID-19 associated with Temple, as students may report their home addresses when being tested, Farley said. However, much of the city’s recent increases in cases is associated with Temple, he said.
The city’s contact tracing continues to show students testing positive COVID-19 primarily live in crowded off campus apartments and infection occurs in small social gatherings, Farley said.
Students who live in residence halls are not required to move out, but those who do by Sept. 13 will be fully refunded, according to Temple’s announcement.
Temple’s offering to refund students “will hopefully get some of those students off campus,” Garrow said.
The Philadelphia Department of Health will work with Temple to provide guidance for students moving home to do so safely as to not spread COVID-19 further, Farley said.
Students who are considering moving back to their hometown should if they are able to, Garrow said.
Garrow recommended students wear masks if they are around people who they don’t live with, wash their hands frequently, and seek out testing if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms, as everyone in Philadelphia should, he said.
“If they’ve been following the recommendations closely and havent been around other people who may be sick and they consistently wear their mask, we think that travel can be done safely without spreading the virus to their family and friends at home,” Garrow added.
Garrow reinforced guidance the city issued Saturday night for students to not socialize with those outside of their household.
“While there is an outbreak going on on Temple’s campus, we still are experiencing community spread,” Garrow said. “It’s impossible for us to say right now if someone tests positive in North Philadelphia for [COVID-19] they got it from a Temple student or if they got it from just being in the community without some level of in depth case investigation.”
After hosting a testing event at the Aramark Student Training and Recreation Complex on Monday, the department has continued testing students at the site Tuesday and Wednesday, and is hoping to work with Temple to continue testing, Garrow said.
“We’ve been working for 6 months now to stop outbreaks as they happen throughout the city,” he added. “So any time that there’s a bunch of people who get together and are able to share this virus because of how easily it spreads, I mean it definitely threatens the rest of the city.”