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In an email today, Penn announced masking is now optional in indoor public spaces on campus effective immediately while masking in classrooms continues to be required until March 28. 

Credit: Diego Cárdenas

Penn will drop its indoor mask mandate for all non-classroom indoor spaces effective immediately, following the City of Philadelphia’s move to the “All Clear” COVID-19 precautions tier. Masks will be required in classrooms until March 28.

Indoor masking has been one of Penn’s central COVID-19 mitigation measures, but with Tuesday’s announcement, community members will no longer be required to wear a mask in athletic facilities, libraries, residential halls, and dining halls, University administrators wrote in a campuswide email. The announcement comes after five consecutive weeks of encouraging trends with low COVID-19 positivity rates and case counts.

The University also modified its COVID-19 screening testing requirements as starting today, community members who have uploaded their COVID-19 booster vaccine information are exempt from screening testing. Community members who are unvaccinated, not fully vaccinated, or have not yet uploaded their booster information will be required to test twice each week. COVID-19 testing will continue to be available to all community members.

Interim President Wendell Pritchett, Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli, and Executive Vice President for the Health System J. Larry Jameson cited revised guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the central reasons for reversing the mask mandate.

Masking will continue to be required in healthcare settings and on Penn Transit. 

"It has now been two years since our community first experienced the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," University administrators wrote. "We have been through a lot, we have learned a lot, and now we are seeing better days ahead."

The University is also reinstating a 10-day isolation protocol for those who test positive for COVID-19. All community members will be eligible to test on day seven for an early return to campus on day eight.

Campus visitors are no longer required to be fully vaccinated but must complete a pre-screening attestation through PennOpen Campus on the day of their visit, in addition to presenting a Green Pass upon request and complying with Penn's public health guidance.

Mirroring the City of Philadelphia's four COVID-19 response tiers, the University plans on publishing a similar set of response levels that will guide future changes on-campus.

"We are grateful to be in a much better place than we were two years ago, and we look forward to celebrating together the joyful campus events of the months ahead," the administrators wrote.

A total of 25 Penn community members tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of spring break from March 6 to March 12 — down 65 cases from the week before. Undergraduates comprised only five of the new cases, a new semester low — down from 24 during the week from Feb. 27 to March 5.

The campus-wide positivity rate remained stable at 1.09%, marking the fifth consecutive week that it has been between one and two percent. Graduate students experienced the lowest positivity rate of 0.80% of all campus populations, a semester low for the community. 

On-campus cases reflect encouraging trends across Philadelphia County, which is now averaging 47 cases per day, with a test positivity rate of 0.7% as of March 14. Stable low case count and positivity keep the City of Philadelphia in “All Clear” status.

“All Clear” requires that at least three of the four following conditions must be met before masking can end: the city-wide average of new cases per day is fewer than 100, hospitalizations are under 50, positivity rate has dropped below 2%, and cases have not risen by more than 50% in the past 10 days.

In a March 1 email, Penn administrators updated safety guidelines and wrote that community members who do not upload COVID-19 booster vaccine information by March 14 or are not yet booster-eligible will be required to undergo screening testing through Penn Cares twice each week. Students are required to upload their booster information into their Student Health Portal.

Penn’s shift in COVID-19 mitigation efforts comes last among the University’s peer institutions in the Ivy League. Princeton University was the first to announce its mask mandate reversal on March 2, and Columbia University followed suit on March 3. Since then, the remaining five Ivy League institutions — Cornell University, Brown University, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, and Yale University — lifted their indoor mask mandates between March 8 and March 11.

Although all Ivy League universities maintained mask requirements in healthcare settings and on-campus transportation, they differed in their guidelines for in-classroom masking. Cornell and Yale continue to mandate masks during classes, despite lifting the requirement in other indoor spaces. Harvard and Brown provide professors with the option to impose a mask mandate for their class, while Dartmouth’s guidance says professors can ask students to wear masks during class but not require usage. Columbia and Princeton have the most lenient indoor mask mandates where masks are not required in classrooms.