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Testing observer Brittany Sellers stands at her station in the DuBois/Rodin Field testing site on Jan. 19.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn's COVID-19 case count stayed relatively low this week, as the case count in the city of Philadelphia experienced a much larger uptick.

A total of 59 Penn community members tested positive for COVID-19 between Nov. 7 and Nov. 13, compared to 39 the week before, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 6. In Philadelphia, 1,391 people tested positive for COVID-19 last week, over 200 more than the previous week. The positivity rate last week within the Penn community sat at 0.45%, while the positivity rate in Philadelphia increased from 2.90% to 3.20%. 

Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said the majority of the cases were linked to either travel to areas with lower vaccination rates or transmission by unvaccinated family members, such as children who remain ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Given our incredibly high COVID-19 vaccination rate, coupled with our other mitigation strategies, Penn is an incredibly safe place to be," Dubé said.

He emphasized that the continued lack of classroom and workplace transmission is an incredibly positive sign and that the University's in-person fall semester has largely been a success. Penn's COVID-19 positivity rate has sat steady around 0.40% for the majority of the semester.

In addition to a sustained low positivity rate, close to 80% of Penn students complied with the University's biweekly COVID-19 testing, Dubé said. Every two weeks, the University issues red PennOpen Passes to students who have failed to test for COVID-19 in the prior two-week period.

On Nov. 9, halfway through the testing cycle, thousands of students — including 2,856 undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences — were at risk of receiving noncompliance red PennOpen Passes on Nov. 16. A large number of students remedied the situation by the Nov. 13 deadline, while the remaining students were barred from many campus buildings on Nov. 16.

"Having 80% of students follow the rules is great, and it is a really encouraging thing to see the progress we have made on this front over the last few weeks," Dubé said. "The fact remains, however, that there are still many students who are not doing the right thing, and that really needs to change.

Many students have struggled to adhere to the COVID-19 testing requirement over the past month. On Oct. 19, over 9,000 students received noncompliance red PennOpen Passes.

Ahead of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the University will extend the hours at the Du Bois testing center. The testing center — which is typically open six days a week — will offer testing on Sunday, Nov. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Similarly, the University will offer testing on Sunday, Dec. 19, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ahead of winter break.

Dubé said the number of students who are scheduling their COVID-19 tests ahead of time continues to remain very low. The lack of appointments has continued to create backlogs in Penn's COVID-19 testing laboratory, leading to a challenge to return results within 24 hours.

"We continue to truly encourage students to schedule their tests ahead of time. If you schedule a test, you will always be able to get it. If you walk in, there may be times in which we are forced to turn students away, which we obviously never want to do," Dubé said.

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