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Hand sanitizer stations can now be found throughout the Philadelphia International Airport. Campus Health attributed the spike in Penn's COVID-19 case count to travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. Credit: Ashley Ahn

Penn recorded its highest weekly case count and positivity rate at 107 and 3.05%, respectively, last week, with Campus Health attributing the spike to travel and gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday.

For just the third time this semester, the positivity rate climbed above 2% for the week ending on Dec. 5. Out of the 107 positive results, only 17 and 29 were undergraduate and graduate students, respectively. 60 other cases were among faculty, postdocs, staff, and other Penn affiliates.

"We are not surprised by these cases," Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said. "We expected cases rise [if people traveled and gathered] around Thanksgiving, and now we're seeing that."

Penn laid out a series of recommendations for students' holiday travel, including leaving campus or the Philadelphia area sooner rather than later and not returning in between the Thanksgiving and winter breaks.

"Traveling is certainly a risk and we have said that all along," she said. "Limiting and eliminating travel is a part of the Campus Compact, because travel does not only put yourself at risk but you put your peers, household contacts, and others at risk."

Penn's semester-long COVID-19 positivity rate sits at 1.38%, well under the 5% positivity rate the World Health Organization recommends staying below. 

Penn's COVID-19 testing sites are open Monday through Friday for students who make an appointment on the University's COVID-19 scheduling website by 9 p.m. the night before the requested test date. Students with a Green PennOpen Pass will continue to be tested at Houston Hall's Hall of Flags. Students who have a Red PennOpen Pass, indicating that they are symptomatic or may have come into contact with someone with symptoms, are to be tested at Irvine Auditorium. 

Penn will also open another testing location under a tent outside Du Bois College House on High Rise Field from Dec. 14 to 18 and Dec. 21 to 22.

Penn transitioned to saliva-based testing on Dec. 7 in preparation for the reopening of campus in the spring semester. Chief Operating Officer for Wellness Services Erika Gross said the first two days of saliva-based testing have gone smoothly. 

Halbritter said while testing is an important part of protecting oneself and others from COVID-19, it is crucial that students continue to wear masks, wash their hands, and practice social distancing. 

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