Penn is currently planning for in-person, on-campus instruction for the fall semester after over a year of remote instruction.
Top University administrators sent an email to faculty on Monday morning stating that the "increasing availability of effective vaccines" and President Joe Biden's recent promise to make every adult in the United States eligible for vaccination by May 1, as well as his projection that there will be enough vaccines for every adult in the United States by the end of May, have allowed the University to be hopeful about a nearing end to the pandemic.
"There will be many more details to come, and it is possible that external conditions and federal, state, and city guidance could still change," the administrators wrote. "Yet there is now ample evidence that conditions are markedly improving to support our shared hope to resume our lives together on campus for the fall semester and beyond."
University administrators wrote that, as vaccines become increasingly available, they will update Penn faculty when supplies and federal, state, and city guidelines permit broader distribution. Provost Wendell Pritchett estimated a "50-50 chance" that Penn will be able to launch a COVID-19 vaccination effort for students by May at the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 25.
"Our incomparable Penn community has united in sustaining our historic mission under the most challenging circumstances," the administrators wrote. "We thank you again for your solidarity and profound contributions to the Penn community. We will continue to update you in the weeks ahead."
The email — sent by Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, Deputy Provost Beth Winkelstein, and Vice Provost for Faculty Laura Perna — mentioned Penn's recent announcement that it will hold a limited in-person commencement on May 17 for graduating seniors in the Class of 2021, inviting faculty to attend the ceremony virtually. The University administrators also wrote about increased research opportunities on campus this summer for undergraduates participating in the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program, as well as the new block schedule format that will begin in fall 2021.
After Penn conducted fall 2020 remotely and encouraged all students not to return to Philadelphia, the University opened on-campus housing to all students for the spring, with the majority of classes still being taught online.
While University administrators wrote in an Oct. 30 email to the Penn community that they "expect to see a modest increase in in-person instruction during the spring semester," most spring classes continue to be delivered remotely with limited exceptions for courses with clinical experiences and in-person research required for graduation.
Last week, the University delayed its advance registration period for fall 2021 to April 13 through April 23, instead of the previously scheduled March 22 through April 4. Administrators from each of the four undergraduate schools had explained the decision was made "to provide more planning time for faculty and students as the University considers its approach to fall 2021 course instruction."
Like Penn, several peer and nearby institutions have also released plans to resume in-person instruction over the past weeks.
Harvard University is planning for a "full return" with "as much in-person learning as possible” for undergraduates, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay told The Harvard Crimson on Friday, adding that COVID-19 trends on campus this spring have been promising. Local institutions — including Temple University, Swarthmore College, and Penn State University — have all announced plans for in-person instruction in the fall, citing low case rates and hope for the vaccination of students on campus.
After witnessing a sharp increase in cases in early February, Penn's positivity rate reached a semester low of 0.31% for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6.
Several parts of campus have reopened this semester as COVID-19 cases have been declining on campus and in Philadelphia. The University launched limited indoor dining at dining halls last week and reopened the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center at a limited capacity in February.
"Our incomparable Penn community has united in sustaining our historic mission under the most challenging circumstances," the administrators wrote to faculty. "We thank you again for your solidarity and profound contributions to the Penn community. We will continue to update you in the weeks ahead."