A coronavirus outbreak at Temple University is believed to be driving up the city’s overall case counts, and, on Thursday, it forced the college’s leaders to suspend most in-person classes for the remainder of the semester.
Temple had 236 active COVID-19 cases in its student body as of Thursday afternoon.
In a letter to students, university president Richard Englert and JoAnne Epps, the school’s executive vice president and provost, said about 95% of classes will be virtual. Only those requiring essential in-person instruction will continue on campus.
“Like so many of our colleagues around the country, we believed an in-person educational experience could be part of students’ lives this fall,” Englert and Epps wrote.
“Please know that if the data supported a decision to safely continue the fall semester experience on campus, we would have made every effort to do so,” they said.
Students living in Temple-run housing can receive a full refund if they leave by Sept. 13, or, the university said, they can stay if they are worried about bringing the virus home to family members.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Wednesday urged schools with outbreaks to keep students on campus.
“When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Today.”
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley encouraged Temple students to leave crowded apartment buildings and residence halls and return to their permanent homes, but he asked them to do it carefully.
“The health department will be working with Temple on guidance to students as to what’s the best way to do that,” Farley said.
Contact tracing efforts show the virus has been spreading between roommates and at small gatherings off campus, he said. He said the university has been cooperating with the health department throughout the process.
Farley again asked Temple students to be extremely cautious and only leave their rooms for essential errands.
Officials reported 166 new coronavirus cases in the city Thursday and 235 on Wednesday, higher than recent numbers. Of the results received Thursday, 56% of the people infected were under the age of 30.
“It does appear that most of the increase in the past week we’ve seen across the city is related to the outbreak at Temple University,” Farley said.
The city recorded one additional COVID-19-related fatality, raising Philadelphia’s death toll to 1,759 since the start of the pandemic. Indoor dining and theaters are still on track to be permitted to reopen Tuesday.
Colleges have been experiencing outbreaks, leading to an uptick in cases nationwide, Farley said.
At the University of Georgia, about 800 students caught the virus during the first week of classes, and Ohio State University has had nearly 900 cases.
Pennsylvania State University has conducted about 6,600 tests since early August, and 73 have tested positive. Villanova University, in Radnor Township, has reported 42 total COVID-19 cases.
Mayor Jim Kenney thanked Englert and his staff for making the “very difficult decision” to halt in-person classes.
“Temple is a shining jewel in our city, and I hope all Philadelphians will support the university and their students as they work through this period,” he said.