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From online classes to in-person events, Penn saw its ups and downs with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Whether in-person or online, masked or unmasked, socializing or isolating, COVID-19 continued to define life at Penn in 2021.

The University reopened the doors of its College Houses to students in the spring, endured a positivity rate spike in February, and began vaccinating community members against COVID-19 in April to round out the semester. Then, in the fall, Penn resumed in-person instruction for the first time in well over a year, hit milestone vaccination rates and COVID-19 tests, and now, as the year comes to a close, has plans to open a booster vaccine clinic. 

Here's a look back at everything to do with COVID-19 on-campus in 2021.

Jan. 10 For the first time in nearly a year, Penn welcomed all students back to on-campus housing. Upon arrival, students were required to submit to gateway COVID-19 tests before entering a three-week Quiet Period until Feb. 1, which required students to limit movement outside of their residences to essential purposes to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

This Quiet Period ended up being anything but quiet, as first-year students reportedly threw parties in their college houses — angering students, residential advisors, and graduate associates who feared for their own safety as well as a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus.

Feb. 5 Penn announced it had noticed "worrisome trends" in the COVID-19 positivity rate on campus in a Friday night community alert, warning against hosting gatherings, particularly for the Super Bowl. 

That week, the University's COVID-19 case count hit its peak of the year, when 239 undergraduate students tested positive between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6. Earlier that week, top administrators had announced in meetings with Greek life leaders that Greek life accounted for a "completely disproportionate" number of COVID-19 cases on campus.

The University warned that a campus-wide self-quarantine may be imposed. No such quarantine was imposed, as the next week the case count decreased by approximately 50%. The positivity rate would decrease for the next five weeks.

March 23Philadelphia city officials told the DP that numerous Penn and Drexel University students had received the COVID-19 vaccine at the city's mass vaccination site despite being ineligible under the current Philadelphia vaccine distribution guidelines.

March 30 The City of Philadelphia approved the University as an official COVID-19 vaccination site, a move that paved the way for Penn community members to receive vaccines on campus.

Penn began converting the Gimbel Gymnasium in the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center into the vaccination site.

April 14 Penn administered the first COVID-19 vaccinations on campus to a select group of Penn community members. Community members praised the vaccine clinic, calling it a "well-oiled machine" and noted the convenience of getting vaccinated on campus. 

The entirety of the Penn community, including all students, became eligible to receive the vaccine on campus on April 19, when the city of Philadelphia began vaccinating all adults

April 22 Just days after opening the on-campus vaccination site, Penn announced it would require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the in-person fall semester.

June 1 Penn announced it would require all faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the start of the fall semester.

June 14 As vaccinations increased and the positivity rate decreased, Penn lifted nearly all indoor masking requirements. The policy was in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but would last less than two months. 

Aug. 5 Penn reversed its previous mask-wearing policy, once again requiring all community members — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks indoors. This policy would stay in place through the end of the year.

Aug. 25 Penn announced that all vaccinated students would be required to test twice a month for COVID-19.

Aug. 31 Students returned en masse to in-person classrooms for the first time in well over a year, marking a massive step in the reopening of campus amid the ongoing pandemic. 

Sept. 28After four weeks of in-person classes and on-campus life, Penn's COVID-19 case count remained low, and the University announced it had seen no proof of classroom transmission, which continued through the end of the semester. The successful start to the semester led Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé to say that "we can coexist with COVID-19."

Oct. 12 Penn hit a milestone vaccination mark when it announced that 99% of undergraduate students had become fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Oct. 19Penn issued 9,130 red PennOpen Passes to students who had failed to comply with the University's COVID-19 testing requirement within the past two weeks.

Throughout the subsequent weeks, fewer and fewer students received noncompliance red PennOpen Passes as the University began requiring a green pass to enter more campus buildings. 

Oct. 29 The University placed 1,150 students on course registration hold for violating the University's COVID-19 vaccination requirement. Graduate and professional studies students made up the vast majority of the noncompliant students.

Nov. 30 Penn issued a strong recommendation to limit social gatherings in the final weeks of the semester as the COVID-19 positivity rates began to increase across the country and the Omicron variant began to spread.

Dec. 1 — Penn administered its landmark 500,000th COVID-19 test.

Dec. 7 The University announced it will hold a COVID-19 booster vaccine clinic on Dec. 15, 16, and 17. All students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral students are eligible to attend the clinic.

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