A petition calling for Penn to move finals online in light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases on campus has garnered over 500 signatures.
The petition was started last week by an account titled “Anonymous Student,” and is directed to the "University of Pennsylvania Faculty and Department Chairs." The University announced on Thursday that it would ban all indoor social gatherings for the rest of the semester following a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus over the past week.
The indoor social gatherings ban applies to parties, formals, and unmasked indoor gatherings, but does not apply to study sessions, performances, indoor dining, or final exams, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an interview on Thursday night.
The petition calls for final exams for large lecture classes to be moved online, citing several grievances with the enforcement of the PennOpen Pass self-reporting system and difficulties with social distancing in classrooms.
"[M]any students who claim to have green passes are often forged or copied or screenshots. When entering building security does not check thoroughly, not to mention there are various ways around getting a red pass such as simply incorrectly reporting your symptoms," the petition reads.
The author of the petition also wrote that seating in most exams for large classes only allows for approximately two feet of space between students.
University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy told the DP that the increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the Penn population is primarily linked to indoor social gatherings. He added that there are still no documented cases of classroom or workplace transmission where people are masked.
"With close to 95% of the undergraduate population having tested over the past two weeks, we have our highest ever compliance in the biweekly testing requirement as we move into final exams," MacCarthy wrote in a statement emailed to the DP. "Public health and safety remain our top priority, and we will continue to monitor any new developments."
According to Dubé, 133 community members tested positive between Dec. 6 and 8, more than the previous week’s total of 120 cases. The vast majority of the new cases — most of whom were undergraduates — were linked to parties and other large indoor social gatherings.
Engineering junior Arjun Shukla said he signed the petition because he has three in-person exams this semester, and is concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19 from taking them.
Shukla, who is from India, has not been home to see his family in a year. He plans to go home over winter break, but with the spike in COVID-19 cases at Penn, he fears bringing the virus to his family in India.
"Penn has already taken the liberty to shut down in-person social events as of late," Shukla said. "I think they should really be completely transparent and go the full mile and also ensure that every other activity is completely online as well, in order to minimize the amount of cases that could potentially be coming."
College sophomore Charlie Schumer echoed Shukla's sentiments. Although Schumer does not have any in-person exams this semester, he said he signed the petition because of his concerns about the spread of COVID-19, particularly for students planning to travel home for winter break who need a negative test.
Like Schumer, College junior Adedotun Bello said that while he does not have in-person exams for any large lecture classes, he is concerned that having those exams in person could further the spread of COVID-19 across campus. Bello said that several of his friends who are in larger lecture classes have noted that distancing is often not possible and mask policies are not always enforced.
Bello added that he believes keeping COVID-19 cases low is particularly important now as people prepare to travel home at the semester's end, given that students could potentially spread the virus to immunocompromised family members when they travel.
Schumer worries that students who are missing in-person exams because of a COVID-19 exposure or positive test may now have to make up the in-person exam at the start of the spring semester if an online final is not an option.
"I think that that's a choice that was not made with students' best interests in mind," Schumer said.