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08-26-21-covid-19-masks-students-locust-walk-summer-campus-nicholas-fernandez

Students walking down Locust Walk on Aug. 26.

Credit: Nicholas Fernandez

As some schools switch to online learning and tighten COVID-19 safety restrictions, Penn maintains that in-person classes have not led to virus transmission.

In a Tuesday afternoon email to students in the College of Arts and Sciences, College Dean Paul Sniegowski wrote that the University's latest COVID-19 dashboard update offers hope that the entirety of the fall semester can be conducted in person. According to the dashboard, Penn currently has a positivity rate of 1.11%, a vaccination rate of 97% among faculty and undergraduates, and no classroom transmission has been found. Cases on campus have instead been linked to off-campus, unmasked social gatherings.

La Salle University temporarily switched classes to a virtual format last week, after 43 cases were reported after Labor Day weekend, a significant increase from the previous week's four cases. 

Duke University implemented an indoor and outdoor mask mandate and suspended indoor group dining in late August, after more than 300 students tested positive. Similarly, 82 positive cases at Brown University prompted administrators to halt in-person dining, increase mandatory testing, and restrict social gatherings.

Yet at Penn, Sniegowski maintains that the University's in-person format is associated with a "very low probability" of COVID-19 transmission because of its mask mandate and high vaccination rate. 

To maintain a low positivity rate, Sniegowski emphasized that both students and faculty must follow the University's COVID-19 safety protocols. He reminded students and faculty to wear masks that cover both the mouth and nose at all times in indoor spaces. Students, faculty, and staff must also complete daily PennOpen Pass symptom checks, and students who receive red passes should not come to class. Students who feel sick should also not attend class, Sniegowski wrote.

The School of Arts and Sciences has urged instructors to provide access to lecture notes, class materials, recorded lectures, and online office hour meetings for students who cannot come to class due to illness, according to the email. Instructors have also been asked to promote study groups to provide backup for students who miss class and to implement makeup policies for students who must miss examinations due to quarantine or isolation.

Penn welcomed students to campus for in-person learning this fall for the first time since March 2020. First years and sophomores, who are taking classes on campus for the first time, told The Daily Pennsylvanian last week that they have largely enjoyed the in-person experience so far.

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