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03-03-2021-open-book-marija-westfall
In an email on Wednesday, Penn announced all exams during the week of Dec. 20 will be moved online. Credit: Marija Westfall

Penn will move all final exams online during the week of Dec. 20 as a precautionary measure to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, Vice Provost for Education Karen Detlefsen, and Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé announced in an email to all undergraduate students on Wednesday afternoon that finals scheduled through Dec. 17 will continue in person, while finals during the week of Dec. 20 will be online. Exams through the end of this week may also be moved online if professors so choose, the administrators wrote.

Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the decision to move finals online is “simply a precautionary measure to ensure students can head home safely for Winter Break.” He added that there is still no evidence of classroom transmission of COVID-19 on campus.

Penn’s case count continued to rise last week. A total of 189 community members tested positive between Dec. 5 and Dec. 11, 70 more positive cases than any other week this semester, and an increase of 70 from the week between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4. Undergraduate and graduate students accounted for 153 of the cases, and 80% of the cases were linked to indoor social gatherings

The decision to move finals online follows last week’s announcement that student groups would be required to cancel indoor social events for the remainder of the semester. At the time, the University planned to keep finals in-person, but after case counts continued to rise, the decision shifted out of an abundance of caution, Dubé said.

Last week, students started a petition calling on Penn to move final exams online after banning indoor social gatherings. The petition has garnered over 700 signatures as of Dec. 15.

Penn's peer institutions have made similar decisions to move final exams to remote platforms or close campus entirely. Princeton University announced on Tuesday that all final exams beginning Dec. 16 will be online. Cornell University shut down campus and moved all final exams online due to "rapid spread of COVID-19 among [the] student population." Cornell's COVID-19 testing lab team also identified evidence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in "a significant number" of positive cases this past Monday. 

The Penn administrators wrote that students should continue to get tested, wear masks, and receive a COVID-19 booster shot as soon as possible to continue reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.

“Stay vigilant and continue to follow public health guidance,” Dubé told the DP. “Get your booster shot and continue make good decisions to protect yourself, your family, and the community.”

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