February 03, 2021
Students only recently returned to campus at Villanova University for the spring semester, and already the Main Line school is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
Villanova is one of several local schools to bring students back to campus for the spring, despite the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and limited vaccine supply. Spring classes at the college started Jan. 25.
In less than a week, Villanova has reported at least 186 new cases of COVID-19. The university had three consecutive days of 60 or more positive tests on campus in the last week, in addition to 70 new cases reported Tuesday.
"This weekend the COVID-19 dashboard numbers are higher than we have previously experienced. Although we have the resources to manage the current situation, these numbers are not sustainable," the Rev. John P. Stack, vice president for student life, said in an email to the Villanova community. "If this trend continues, Father Peter will have no option but to end the semester on campus. We must immediately act in ways that will bring our numbers down and we must do this together."
Stack said the campus already has more than 50% of the total number of positive cases it had during the fall semester. On Wednesday, Villanova's COVID-19 dashboard showed 333 total cases at the school since Jan. 19 – 249 of which were among students living on campus.
The university has a combined undergraduate and graduate student population of about 10,000, along with about 2,500 faculty and administrative staff members.
Associate vice president for student life Kathy Byrnes told the student-run newspaper The Villanovan that most of the new COVID-19 cases are coming from off-campus events, as opposed to one large event.
In August, Villanova threatened to send students home in the wake of a large outdoor gathering in which many were seen outside without masks. Outdoor activities are generally encouraged, while masked, as a safer alternative to indoor gatherings, which are linked to high rates of COVID-19 transmission.
So far, Villanova has not canceled any activities or classes for the spring semester.
The University of Pennsylvania and Temple University both welcomed students back to campus in Philadelphia for the spring semester. Those universities are holding a limited number of in-person classes, with most instruction remaining virtual.
In the fall, Temple saw a similar spike in COVID-19 cases when students returned to campus, a trend seen at colleges across much of the United States. Most infections at Temple were linked to off-campus gatherings. This semester, Temple has introduced a more robust testing program that is administering about 20,000 tests weekly.
In Philadelphia, COVID-19 cases have been falling in recent weeks, but remain relatively high compared to the low point seen in September.
Stack said Villanova can reverse the concerning trend on campus.
"We must reduce the spread of the virus. Despite the challenges that winter weather and more time indoors may bring, it's time to double-down," Stack said. "We can do this again, but only with each person's active participation."