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12-09-21-solo-cup-photo-illustration-no-parties-social-gatherings-kylie-cooper
The indoor social gatherings ban applies to parties, formals, and unmasked indoor gatherings. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn is prohibiting all indoor social gatherings through the end of the fall 2021 semester after 133 community members tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three days.

The University sent a UPennAlert to all community members on Thursday evening, confirming the new restrictions after requiring a number of student groups to cancel upcoming social events on Wednesday night. 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.

From Nov. 28 to Dec. 4, there were 120 total positive cases among Penn community members, up from 90 the previous week — an uptick which the University did not find alarming, Dubé said. But when 133 community members — the majority of whom are undergraduates — tested positive between Dec. 6 and 8 and the vast majority of these cases were linked to parties and other social events, it became clear that a restriction was necessary.

Dubé said the decision to prohibit indoor social events was preventative in nature and was made in an effort to avoid the need for further restrictions on campus movement, which could jeopardize the University's academic mission.

"We are not headed in a good direction right now when it comes to COVID-19 on-campus," Dubé said. "By restricting these incredibly high-risk activities, we are taking one step towards making sure we do not have to take more extreme measures."

While large indoor social gatherings are prohibited, small, masked indoor gatherings are still allowed. The University has not seen any proof of classroom transmission or workplace transmission.

"We are not trying to send people into the dorms and into isolation. Study break activities, grab and go, talking indoors with masks on — these events are fully allowed and people are doing the right thing. These events are how students maintain their wellbeing and they are still fully allowed," Dubé said.

Students or student groups that elect not to cancel indoor social gatherings will be subject to referral to the Office of Student Conduct, Dubé said.

Dubé said that the decision to prohibit social events was made in an effort to prioritize allowing students to finish the semester safely and travel home over winter break.

"If a student were to test positive now or in the next few days, they would be in isolation until mid-to late December and would be unable to attend in-person exams or travel," Dubé said. "We want to make sure that this is not the case and by restricting indoor social gatherings, we are doing this."

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