After declining for five straight weeks, Penn's weekly undergraduate COVID-19 positivity rate increased from 0.23% to 0.93% for the week from March 14 to March 20.
Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said the 49 total undergraduate cases can largely be attributed to student travel during the two "Spring Stay" days, which took place on March 10 and 11 in place of the previously canceled spring break. Halbritter also said the spring weather over the past week has been a factor in the uptick in cases, as it incentived many students to socialize, party, and dine indoors at increased rates.
Halbritter and Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said it is still too soon to tell whether the spike in cases will be isolated to this week.
“Either this will be a bump in the road, or this will be the beginning of a trend,” Dubé said. "We obviously hope it is the former."
Over the past two weeks, Dubé said he has been anxiously awaiting this week's results, preparing for a potential increase in cases due to student travel.
Students who traveled out of the state are required by the University to quarantine for 10 days, unless they have been fully vaccinated within the past three months, are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, and have a green PennOpen Pass.
“Testing is not your passport to party or your ticket to travel. Vaccines are sort of going to be the same way, as we must remain vigilant,” Halbritter said.
Halbritter pointed to current research, which shows that the vaccines are effective at preventing death and hospitalization, but not necessarily transmissibility of the virus. Students — not including those in Phases 1A and 1B of the city's vaccination plan — are not eligible to receive the vaccine currently, but will become eligible on May 1, when the city moves into Phase 2.
The potential availability of vaccines was a primary reason cited in Penn’s announcement that it plans to resume in-person instruction in fall 2021.
Penn has also reopened several aspects of the University in the past few weeks as the undergraduate COVID-19 positivity rate has decreased, including Pottruck Health and Fitness Center and limited indoor dining.