Temple outbreak could threaten city, health chief says

Temple University sign
Rolltribe/ Wikimedia Commons

A novel coronavirus outbreak among students at Temple University could spread and even threaten the city’s progress against the pandemic, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

Active cases among Temple students totaled 127 as of Tuesday afternoon, as officials await the results of mass testing conducted Monday.

Farley said health department employees tested 38 students living at one off-campus residence Sunday after a few documented cases, and 15 received positive results.

“Overall these numbers are concerning, and the rate of rise is even more concerning,” he said.

Testing teams visited the school’s North Philadelphia campus Monday, and samples were taken from about 470 people.

Most of those who have been infected live in off-campus apartments and appear to have been exposed at small gatherings, Farley said.

He urged Temple students to assume everyone they interact with has the virus; asked them to only leave their dorms or apartments for essential errands; and instructed them to wear a mask whenever they are around another person.

“Otherwise, this outbreak could grow quickly and it could threaten the rest of the campus and the rest of the city,” Farley said.

Temple on Sunday decided to suspend in-person classes through Sept. 11. Earlier in the weekend, the health department issued guidance telling all college students to avoid gatherings of any size.

The university had been utilizing a hybrid model, with a mix of in-person and online courses. Farley said his department is in discussions with Temple leadership regarding a longer-term plan.

Meanwhile, officials have been contacting the city’s other colleges to review their COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re hopeful that some other colleges may be able to maintain it safely,” he said.

Many of the city’s largest schools, including Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Community College of Philadelphia, are conducting a 100% virtual fall semester.

City leaders reported 131 new coronavirus cases Tuesday and two additional fatalities, bringing the city’s pandemic death toll to 1,751. The positive test rate for the past week was 3.7%, slightly above the previous week.

Not all of the college-related cases have been factored into the city’s daily numbers because some students provided home addresses outside Philadelphia, Farley said. Officials are working to reclassify those cases.

In other COVID-19-related news, families will not have to provide student identification numbers when picking up meals for their children at School District of Philadelphia food distribution sites.

Officials had said the information would be required, but the United States Department of Agriculture on Monday extended a pandemic-related waiver that relaxes the rules. Any student from any school will be able to receive the grab-and-go bags.

There are 62 student meal sites around the city, and the locations are open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays. For a complete list, go to www.phila.gov/food.