The CJU-PSU Science Team has conducted new Covid-spread simulations for the Penn State University Park (UP) campus using an epidemiological model. This model accounts for the presence of vaccinated individuals. It was used to evaluate alternative scenarios within the COVID-19 testing capacity at UP compared to the administration’s current COVID-19 plan. There were three key findings:

  • The administration must mandate vaccinations to reduce symptomatic cases and possible hospitalizations and deaths among students, faculty, and staff.
  • The administration must start testing all vaccinatedindividuals immediately, a strategy totally absent in the current PSU plan, but present at many other universities.
  • The administration must implement mitigation measures during home football games, such as mandatory submission of negative COVID-19 test results for all visitors to Beaver stadium, or, if this is not possible, to hold games with a much-reduced attendance.

These results are not surprising. As expected, an overall percentage of vaccination in the mid to upper 90%, which is achievable only with a vaccine mandate of the kind that other universities have, notably reduces the number of moderately symptomatic infections. It therefore reduces the possibility of hospitalizations and deaths among students, staff, and faculty. However, without also testing vaccinated individuals, the administration’s current plan for Penn State will not be able to stop an outbreak of asymptomatic infection at UP even if a vaccine mandate is rapidly implemented. Under the current plan, an outbreak of asymptomatic cases, driven by delta variant infections among vaccinated individuals is likely to occur and will likely go totally unnoticed by Penn State’s administration. The infections may then spread into the surrounding community and affect the unvaccinated population in Centre County, most notably children under the age of 12 who can’t yet be vaccinated

Finally, the report analyzes the PSU COVID-19 dashboard data available after 12 days in the semester and contrasts it with the model predictions. The current level of infections as of day 12 of the semester exceeds that of the most extreme simulations. In other words, this simulation is conservative and the situation will potentially be worse than the simulation predicts.

Penn State’s administration needs to improve its current plan in order to reduce symptomatic and asymptomatic cases and deaths this semester. These improvements are obtained by assuming a vaccine mandate is implemented, in addition to a low-cadence testing of the vaccinated (while maintaining the current testing of unvaccinated individuals), resulting in a plan well within the testing capacity at PSU UP.  Given that the model predictions are uncertain due to the uncertainty of various of its input parameters, it makes sense to act with caution and implement the measures of one of the alternative scenarios presented as soon as practicable. 

The full technical report can be accessed here.