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Due to a recent surge in the number of students seeking COVID-19 tests before Thanksgiving, test results may now take up to 72 hours or longer to appear.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn has seen a spike in demand for COVID-19 tests with Thanksgiving just around the corner, leading to longer lines and delayed test results beyond the usual 24- to 48-hour window.

Early Friday evening, the University's COVID-19 Twitter account posted that test results may take up to 72 hours due to a recent surge in the number of students seeking tests. Penn's test results website states that results could take even longer than 72 hours. For some students, this unexpected change in timeline, coupled with other COVID-19-related concerns, has altered their Thanksgiving break plans.

The surge comes as new cases reported worldwide are at their highest, with Philadelphia issuing new citywide COVID-19 restrictions that went into effect Nov. 20. Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé urged students to either return home as soon as they can to avoid peak holiday travel times or avoid travel altogether to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Houston Hall COVID-19 testing center will close on Nov. 25 and reopen on Nov. 30.

College sophomore Kevin Rodriguez was set to go home to New York for the holiday, but recently learned two of his close friends had tested positive for COVID-19, throwing his plans into disarray. While he received a negative result on Friday less than 48 hours after taking a COVID-19 test, he is hesitant to take any risks given the virus' 14-day incubation period, and plans to take another test Monday or Tuesday. Especially given the possibility of delayed test results, Rodriguez has scratched his initial plan to go home on Wednesday.

Rodriguez described the news of not celebrating Thanksgiving at home as "devastating," citing a hefty workload this semester that has prevented him from virtually connecting with his family as much as he would have liked.

"I really miss my family a lot, and it's just annoying that I won't be able to go back now," he said, adding that Penn has not been particularly generous with breaks, giving him few opportunities to practice mental and physical self-care. 

While in line for students with a red PennOpen Pass — assigned to students with symptoms or potential exposure to COVID-19 — Rodriguez noticed the line for students with a green PennOpen Pass wrapping around Irvine Auditorium. He added that he heard a worker tell a student in front of him with a red PennOpen Pass who said she was not experiencing symptoms to wait to get tested. Because he himself had a small cough, he was able to be tested.

"It was kind of weird, because if she's 'red,' you figure she should get tested, right?" he said.

Credit: Jonah Charlton

Social distance markers lead to the entrance of the Houston Hall testing site. While there typically haven't been long wait times to get tested throughout the semester, the volume of students preparing to travel home for Thanksgiving has led to longer lines.

College junior Hope Cho’s holiday plans have also been upended due to the increased demand for tests.

Cho was supposed to get picked up by her mom on Monday or Tuesday, so she made an appointment to get tested at 1:35 p.m. on Saturday. Upon arriving at Houston Hall, she was met with a line that wrapped around the building, which was so long she said it was impossible to see the testing center from the back of the line. Cho said she was told that because the testing site closed at 2 p.m., she would not be able to get tested, despite having scheduled an appointment.

When Cho tried to make another appointment for Monday, she found that the earliest available appointment was Nov. 30. Her new plan is to go home in early December and stay there for the remainder of the semester.

"It really sucks, because I was really excited to go home and see my family," she said. "I've never not spent Thanksgiving with my family, and so this is definitely going to be a first for me."

Similarly, College junior Skylar Cannon observed long lines that wrapped around Irvine on Thursday, though her wait in the red PennOpen Pass line, which is stationed along the side of Houston Hall, was minimal. 

Cannon had a flight to Maryland already scheduled for Friday, and fortunately received her negative test result that morning. She said, however, the unexpected length in time for test results to become available could disrupt some students' travel plans.

"If someone's getting on a flight, I kind of think that they'd get on it and just hope for the best, but maybe the people who are driving home or waiting for their parents to pick them up would wait," she said. "I'm sure it also depends on if they have symptoms or if they've been going to ridiculous parties with a bunch of people."

The recent surge in cases and city restrictions have caused many students to doubt Penn's plans to open on-campus housing this spring, particularly as some students claim that there continues to be large indoor gatherings and parties off campus.

Cannon commended Penn for how it handled COVID-19 testing this semester, but noted that she felt Penn's testing system must be more robust in order to accommodate all undergraduate students next semester.

"I think Penn has done a great job; I've always gotten my test within two days at most," she said. "I think the one concern is that recently the lines have been super long, so I think [for next semester] they probably need to find a way to get more staff or something like that to make the line shorter, or not take walk-ins."