Programs adapt, continue under COVID-19 restrictions
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The ever-evolving coronavirus/COVID-19 situation has prompted additional changes to Penn State Extension programming and operations across Pennsylvania, as well as other public services offered by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
But officials stress that the college’s research — conducted through its nine academic departments and at its research and extension centers across the state — will continue in support of Pennsylvania agriculture, the state’s food system and the well-being of citizens in the commonwealth.
“As part of Penn State’s land-grant partnership with federal, state and county governments, our mission is to provide research-based knowledge that can help ensure a stable food supply and the success of essential, life-sustaining sectors of our economy,” said Steven Loerch, the college’s senior associate dean. “This is especially important during the current pandemic, so we are taking steps to be sure that our research enterprise can continue while safeguarding the health and safety of our personnel, partners and collaborators.”
Loerch also noted that the college continues its educational mission through remote teaching of undergraduate and graduate courses, which is critical for workforce development.
Penn State Extension had announced previously that all public, in-person events it sponsors — workshops, conferences, meetings and so forth — through April 5 would be cancelled, postponed or moved online. These cancellations and postponements now have been extended through May 15. Registered event participants will be notified of cancellations and will receive refunds if they paid registration fees.
Although the organization is limiting face-to-face programs, extension educators are shifting to provide extensive educational programs and information online that can be found on the Penn State Extension website.
Educators also will continue on-farm visits and research, while following disease-control guidelines to minimize risk. These producer consultations and collaborative research projects are in support of what the state of Pennsylvania has designated as “essential agricultural businesses” — farms, food processors, grocers and other operations — that are critical in maintaining the food supply and are considered life-sustaining.
In accordance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order concerning closures, Penn State Extension offices in all 67 counties are closed until further notice. However, county-based educators and staff will continue working remotely.
Residents who have questions or need assistance can call 877-345-0691. In addition, county extension offices can be found on the Penn State Extension website. County office webpages contain a directory with contact information for individual educators and staff members, who can assist, in many cases, by email or phone.
Other critical services the college will continue to provide include the following:
—Penn State Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. The laboratory, part of the three-lab Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System, remains open but with modified staffing levels. As a result, turn-around time for cases submitted to the lab may be longer than usual. The Penn State lab, which helps to safeguard animal and human health and the safety of the food supply, maintains normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
—Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory. Ordinarily, the lab’s soil test kits and water test kits can be purchased at most Penn State Extension county offices. With offices closed, kits can be ordered online directly from the lab. While the lab remains open, it is operating under an emergency contingency plan with limited capacity, and turn-around time for test results may be longer than usual. The lab asks that only high priority samples be submitted at this time. These include drinking water and agricultural samples associated with food/crop production.
—Spotted lanternfly call center. This center, which fields calls from residents reporting spotted lanternfly sightings or seeking information about spotted lanternfly management, quarantine regulations and related topics, is operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. To report a sighting or get more information, the public can visit the Penn State Extension spotted lanternfly website or call 888-422-3359 (888-4BADFLY).
—Plant Disease Clinic. The clinic, which provides diagnoses of plant diseases for about 2,000 samples submitted annually by Pennsylvania agricultural producers, urban gardeners and homeowners, continues to operate but with limited hours. The lab currently is prioritizing samples of life-sustaining crops/plants, such as field crops, vegetables, tree fruit and small fruit.
—4-H youth development. Pennsylvania 4-H, administered by Penn State Extension, has suspended all in-person activities, events and club meetings until further notice, but virtual club meetings can be held online. In addition, 4-H has developed activities that youth can complete at home or online.
—Penn State Berkey Creamery. The Berkey Creamery retail store is closed until further notice, but online orders can be placed on the Creamery website for shipping.
—Penn State Meats Laboratory. The Meats Lab, which ordinarily has weekly public sales during the spring and fall semesters, is closed until further notice, and the lab’s annual Easter ham sale was cancelled.