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Penn is reporting 176 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases which comprise of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students currently in the country and abroad.

Credit: Chase Sutton

As the University forges ahead with its plans to welcome students back to campus this fall, Penn currently has one of the highest coronavirus case counts among colleges in the United States, according to The New York Times. 

As of July 28, Penn has had a total of 176 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases — which comprise of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students currently in the country and abroad — since it began COVID-19 testing in March. 

Out of a survey of approximately 270 U.S. colleges, The New York Times reported Penn with the eighth highest case count.

The University currently has no more than two active cases, neither of which are currently on campus, Penn's Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on July 29.

According to University data, there has been a decrease in confirmed student cases since March. (Image from Benoit Dubé)

Dubé wrote that Penn's cumulative case count is based on students who have been tested by Student Health Service or Penn Medicine, as well as those who have been tested elsewhere and self-reported to SHS. Unlike most schools, Dubé wrote, Penn does not rely on the local public health department for case reporting and contact tracing.   

As of July 28, 645 student case investigations have been conducted by Campus Health, Penn's public health department, which oversees contact investigation and notification for students who have symptoms of the virus. Contact investigations comprise of an in-depth review of activities such as meals, social outings, campus activities, and travel. Individual contacts, places, and fellow travel passengers receive notices of exposure which include risk level as well as health-related instructions, according to the University's coronavirus page.

The positivity rate among symptomatic Penn students since March 11 is 16.7%, which includes 555 tests of symptomatic students and 93 confirmed results, Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter wrote in an email to the DP. 

Penn, unlike six of its Ivy League peers, is inviting the entire undergraduate community back to campus for the fall semester. 

Among their student and staff populations, Yale University has 220 confirmed cases and has conducted more than 4,000 symptomatic tests since March 10, while Harvard University has found 160 confirmed cases as of July 27. Princeton University has 97 diagnosed cases after testing 527 students and employees, according to a July 23 update.

Dartmouth College and Columbia University currently have 48 and two reported cases, respectively, The New York Times reported. 

The New York Times — which revealed more than six thousand U.S. cases linked to college campuses — reports University of Texas at Austin, University of Central Florida, and University of Georgia with the highest case counts in the U.S, each with approximately 400 confirmed infections. The New York Times also identified at least 14 coronavirus-related deaths at colleges.

While some institutions, such as Georgetown University and Washington State University, are abandoning their initial fall plans to now begin the semester entirely online, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy declined to comment on whether Penn is considering a change to its own endeavors. The University currently plans to bring all students back to campus for a hybrid of virtual and in-person instruction beginning Sept. Those who elect to stay home will be able to take all classes remotely.

“If there are any changes to details about the fall semester, we will announce them when they are known,” MacCarthy wrote in a July 27 email to the DP.

Dubé previously told the DP that in a worst-case scenario, the University may not be able to invite any students back to campus, particularly if case counts continue to rise. 

All students will be tested for the virus when they return to campus, Penn announced in a community-wide email sent on June 25, and additional testing will be conducted throughout the fall semester in Houston Hall. To lower the risk of COVID-19 spread on campus, the University is requiring daily symptom checking for everyone on campus through a mobile app before they enter buildings. Penn is also preparing digital contact tracing efforts and campus quarantine space for students who test positive, according to the email.  

Penn plans to create an online platform to report the number of COVID-19 tests administered and the positivity rate within students and the surrounding community, Dubé wrote. More details on the University's testing strategy will be shared over the next month. 

New daily coronavirus cases are on the rise in Pennsylvania, including in Philadelphia County. In southeastern Pennsylvania, 19% of all new cases in July have occurred in people ages 19 to 24, compared to 5% in April as reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

All counties in the state are now in the green phase of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s reopening plan, except for Philadelphia county, which is in the modified green phase. 

Pennsylvania is lagging behind the minimum level of testing needed to mitigate the virus, the Times reported. The percentage of people being tested for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania ranks among the lowest testing rates of all fifty states, according to a Johns Hopkins University analysis

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