The School of Arts and Sciences and College of Arts and Sciences are continuing in-person undergraduate lab research, despite a recent decision by the Perelman School of Medicine recommending that faculty pause undergraduate research due to rising COVID-19 cases on campus.
College Dean and Biology professor Paul Sniegowski sent an email to students on Feb. 12 saying that in-person undergraduate research in the College and SAS will continue at this time. He thanked those who have been following the Student Campus Compact, but reminded the Penn community to stay vigilant by following COVID-19 safety guidelines and participating in regular testing through the University’s Penn Cares program.
Whether we will need to [suspend in-person undergraduate research] the future depends on how all of us continue to do our part to prevent the spread of [COVID-19] in our community," Sniegowski wrote.
This decision comes after undergraduate COVID-19 cases doubled for the second week in a row between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6, rising from 113 to 239 within that week. While the overall campus positivity rate is 2.22% as of Feb. 6, the undergraduate positivity rate is 4.47%, and the available on-campus isolation capacity has fallen to 56.9%.
Top administrators called the latest undergraduate COVID-19 trends “worrisome” in an email sent to all students on Feb. 5, and warned that Penn may move to Alert Level Three: Safer at Home on the University's four-level alert system if cases continue to rise exponentially. This level would ban all public gatherings and require students to quarantine in their place of residence.
Following the warning, Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer Jon Epstein advised faculty members in a Feb. 7 email to halt undergraduate laboratory research in the Medical School until trends reverse.
Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that, although the pace of the increase in undergraduate cases is “a little surprising and concerning,” there is “no evidence of an out-of-control outbreak” on campus at this time. The University is working on tracing each case to a specific cluster, he added, but the process takes time.
During the first month of the fall semester, reports of several Student Campus Compact violations have emerged, such as reports of first-year students partying in college houses, students attending off-campus parties, and Greek organizations hosting in-person events and parties in off-campus venues. Tamara Greenfield King, associate vice provost for student affairs, told several Greek life members that a “completely disproportionate” amount of COVID-19 cases have been linked to students in the Greek community.
As the spring semester unfolds, administrators continue to urge the Penn community to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.
“Our semester is at stake here: We need to promote a culture that will ensure everyone’s safety,” Sniegowski wrote. “So let’s do this together, for all of our sakes!”