The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is now recommending that students avoid "all social gatherings" with people outside of their household to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In a news release on Aug. 29, the department stated that the guidance was updated in response to new outbreaks on college campuses, both locally and across the United States. In a previous guideline dated Aug. 24, the department wrote that students should "socialize in ways that are relatively safe," such as social distancing and meeting outside.
The stricter guideline comes after Temple University recorded more than 100 cases of COVID-19 among students, prompting the school to suspend in-person classes for two weeks. At least 250 students and staff on the campuses of the six major universities in Pennsylvania have tested positive for COVID-19 within the first few weeks of classes, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Other schools across the country that invited students back to campus have seen massive outbreaks, including the University of Alabama, where more than 1,200 students and 166 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. According to a survey conducted by The New York Times, more than 26,000 reported cases and at least 64 deaths have been linked to colleges since the start of the pandemic.
“It does not require large social gatherings for this virus to spread. Any time two or more people are near each other without wearing masks, there is a risk," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley stated in the Saturday announcement.
The health department recommended that people should wear masks whenever they cannot avoid coming in close contact with those outside their household. Philadelphia currently limits outdoor events and gatherings to 50 guests and indoor gatherings to 25 guests.
The risk of contracting the virus is still present in small social gatherings that are not organized or approved by colleges, according to the update. Interviews with students who tested positive for COVID-19 prove that even those who attended social gatherings obeying the 25-person legal limit have been infected.
Penn announced on Aug. 11 that on-campus housing will be suspended for the fall semester and encouraged all students not to return to Philadelphia. Drexel University announced it will close all university housing and move all fall undergraduate courses to a remote format the following week, and Temple University announced on Sunday that it would suspend in-person classes through Sept. 11 after reporting 103 active cases.
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