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01-19-21-penn-covid-19-testing-dubois-kylie-cooper

The DuBois COVID-19 testing site on Jan. 19.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn's COVID-19 case count remained low last week, but thousands of students risk being barred from campus buildings next week as a result of continued testing noncompliance.

A total of 38 Penn community members tested positive for COVID-19 between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6 out of a total of 11,216 community members who received tests. While the overall case count remains low, thousands of students — including 2,856 undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences — are at risk of receiving noncompliance red PennOpen Passes on Nov. 16 due to testing noncompliance, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Paul Sniegowski wrote in an email to students in the College on Tuesday. 

Sniegowski's email — and the larger issue of testing noncompliance — mimics a similar situation from two weeks ago, when the University announced 7,231 students were at risk.

Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said that this testing period's overall number of noncompliant students is less than that of two weeks ago, but it is "still very disappointing." Dubé did not provide an exact number.

"While the number of students at risk is lower than previously, it is still much higher than it should be," Dubé said. "Getting one test over a two-week period is not that big of an ask; we need students to do their part in keeping the University community safe."

Dubé said the number of students who are scheduling their COVID-19 tests, as opposed to walking in without an appointment, is even lower. He added that the lack of appointments is creating backlogs in Penn's COVID-19 testing results laboratory.

"The laboratory is able to turn out thousands of results in a day, but if we do not know ahead of time that a certain high number of results is coming in, it makes it nearly impossible for us to return results in 24 hours," he said.

As a result, Dubé said, the University may be forced to stop allowing walk-in testing in the coming weeks, particularly as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches when students may look to be tested before traveling.

Dubé emphasized that students who have appointments will never be turned away from the testing facility, while students who walk in without an appointment could be turned away at any time depending on capacity.

Despite issues with testing noncompliance, the University's case count and positivity rate have remained at or below 0.50% nearly every week, and Penn again saw no cases due to classroom, laboratory, or workplace transmission this week.

"We consistently feel like we can keep carrying out our educational mission in person," Dubé said. "We can do this — but only if everyone keeps doing their part."

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