Penn State COVID experts urge students to consider avoiding family gatherings

A pair of University experts, speaking for the clinical and research arms of Penn State's COVID-19 response, have called for caution as students prepare to return home at the end of the semester.

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On the most recent episode of The Symbiotic Podcast, two members of Penn State’s coronavirus task force—representing the clinical and epidemiological viewpoints—urged caution for people, especially students, around the upcoming holiday season.

On October 26, 2020, Symbiotic host Cole Hons, joined by Onward State podcast cohosts Matt Paolizzi and Matthew Ogden, spoke with Dr. Catharine Paules, a practicing physician at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center, and Penn State professor Andrew Read, an evolutionary biologist and the director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

With COVID-19 cases spiking nationwide, the experts urged people to consider avoiding social gatherings—even with family at the holidays. Paules, who holds an appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine and has collaborated with director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthon Fauci, said that close contact with people outside the immediate home—even relatives who live separately—has been a substantial contributor to the spread of coronavirus even before millions of people contemplate traveling to be with relatives.

“I'm very worried about the holiday season,” said Paules. “I think many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue. We miss seeing our loved ones; this has been a very challenging couple of months, and I just really urge people to take precautions at the holidays.”

“I can't even tell you how many people we've had critically ill here that come in, and their risk factor is they were clustering indoors with their family.”

Read, who was the head of Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics before taking over as Huck director, urged people—especially students—to be proactive, get tested, and not put themselves in positions where they could infect family members.

“I do think it's really important that students take the advantage of the pre-departure testing that's available,” said Read. “And if in doubt, whatever the cause, go there. If you’re going to be in contact with somebody who's high risk, go and make the most of that testing. And if you test positive, stay clear. It's just a Thanksgiving; it’s not the end of the world.”

Other topics covered in their conversation included the dozens of COVID-19-related research projects backed by the Huck’s Coronavirus Research Seed Fund, Dr. Fauci’s public health leadership during the pandemic, and Penn State’s efforts to apply university resources to counter the virus locally.

Inside Penn State’s COIVD-19 Response” is available in audio-only and video form on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. Audio, video, and transcripts can be accessed at The Symbiotic Podcast website.