It has been almost two months, since my last post. Until today, not much had changed. As a result, there was little to report.
In mid-April, through June 7, small groups of students began to return. Most of those living in apartments came to pack up their belongings and leave. Those living in fraternity houses apparently had a plan: stay until graduation, completing whatever they needed to online locally, and socializing for the last time with their friends of the last four years. However, even if they doubled the headcount in the Greek residences, they probably added under 20 to the Ghost Town, as others continued to leave. The photos show several residential parking lots empty, for the first time since we moved here, in 1988.
I did understand the mindset. However, as they came from several states that are hot spots, especially New York and New Jersey, they posed a risk to friends and family, when they returned home.
As expected, the organizers of all regional, large annual public celebrations cancelled their summer events. No Centre region 4th Fest. No mid-July Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. No mid-August University Ag Progress Days. No late August Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair. No “Summers on Allen Street.” We, and most area residents, will miss all except the last.
The University’s Center for the Performing Arts continues to delay setting its 2020-2021 offerings. University and area high school athletic schedules are still on hold.
It has been quiet. We have had few COVID-19 cases in the county, with the few deaths mostly confined to our nursing homes. Our local hospital has not had to choose between coronavirus and other conditions for spaces in its ICU. Unfortunately, businesses have suffered; those that had been on the brink, have been closing
Last week, things began change. Much of Pennsylvania, including Centre County, re-opened for business. True, guidelines for social distancing remain. However, based on our experience, in just one week, many will refuse to follow them, defiantly or out of ignorance.
This brings me back to the ghost town concept. The worst conditions here have been better than the best in many places, since March. It links to where we are.
When the students are present, State College, with 50,000 residents and transient students, represents approximately 30 percent of the county population. Without the students, Centre County is home to 110,000, in a land area slightly larger than Rhode Island, with a population of over 1,000,000. As a result, Centre County has been low density, with approximately 111 people per square mile. Consequently, we have been spared the worst of the pandemic.
However, our local population statistics are about to change. This morning, the University announced that it will bring back the students, in mid-August. This is against all medical logic. It reflects magical thinking on the part of University trustees; few live locally and fewer ever see the students in their off-campus milieu.
- They claim that they have plenty of face masks. The mathematics works out to approximately one mask per student every two weeks
- They promise massive testing. This is occurring nowhere in the commonwealth now, and the results yield too many false negatives to reassure any reasonable person
- They will encourage social distancing
Alas, Centre County went into the Green on June 8. This first weekend saw hundreds of students return exclusively to socialize. They arrived from all parts of Pennsylvania, some still in the red, and from other states. Few wore masks. All literally stood or sat shoulder to shoulder. When the rest of the 50,000 return en masse, in eight weeks, we will be on a two-week COVID-19 incubation countdown.