For the first time in three years, Penn is set to begin the semester with minimal COVID-19 mitigation measures in place, as the University has eased guidance in accordance with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here's what you need to know about COVID-19 policies and guidance on campus.
What’s new since last semester?
Over the summer, Penn lifted its mandatory testing and universal classroom masking requirements, two of the University’s longest-enduring COVID-19 policies, though in the fall, professors will still have the ability to require students to wear masks in their classroom.
Penn downsized its COVID-19 testing system to one site, located at 3734 Spruce St., after permanently closing its Du Bois and Houston Hall testing centers in May 2022. The University also took down PennOpen Pass, the symptom and exposure tracker students utilized to receive public health guidance and to enter certain campus facilities and buildings.
Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé told The Daily Pennsylvanian that although the reality of COVID-19 is a “continuation of where we were in May or June,” the virus’ presence is “far less scary than what it used to be,” adding that in its current state, the virus is in a more manageable and less severe state than it was leading into the fall 2021 semester.
“All of these things bode well for us as we continue to acclimate to the presence of this virus and integrate the presence of COVID-19 into our daily existence,” Dubé said.
Do I still need to wear a mask?
Masks are optional on campus but are required in health care spaces and recommended for community members who have underlying medical conditions, as well as individuals not up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.
Dubé said even though the severity of the pandemic has softened, community members have the agency and the opportunity to continue protecting themselves through individual actions, rather than community requirements.
“It is going to take some time for us to shift our mindset,” Dubé said. “The mindset was, ‘How was Penn protecting me?’ Now the mindset needs to become, ‘What can I do to protect myself?’”
Without universal requirements for masking, Dubé said that community members should have conversations about how best to protect themselves and each other.
Do I need to get tested?
Community members are encouraged to self-test before arriving on campus for the fall semester, according to Penn’s public health guidance. Throughout the semester, testing will not be required but will remain available through the University's Penn Cares testing center, which will also offer at-home antigen tests.
What happens if I test positive for COVID-19?
Penn requires all community members to self-isolate for five days regardless of vaccination status, followed by five days of strict mask usage, during which individuals should eat alone and practice social distancing.
Do I need to get vaccinated against COVID-19?
Students are required to be fully vaccinated and boosted and must submit proof of vaccination to their Wellness Portal.
How can I keep myself healthy on campus?
Dubé said the general rules about how diseases and respiratory illnesses are transmitted have held true throughout the pandemic, encouraging students to take the necessary precautions of washing their hands, wearing a mask if they show signs of symptoms, and getting tested if they don’t feel well.
“We focus so much on COVID-19,” Dubé said. “But what COVID-19 has actually shown us is that the traditional public health tools that have always been available to us continue to be the most important tools that every individual can use to keep themselves healthy and to further impact the broader Penn community.”
Beyond physical health, Dubé said that taking time to disconnect from social media, make mindful decisions, and get an appropriate amount of sleep are steps that are also critical to individual well-being.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Philadelphia?
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health strongly recommends masks in indoor public settings. Most recently, the City reported an average of 260 cases per day and a total of 245 hospitalizations. Masks are not required on public transportation or at stations, such as in SEPTA vehicles or at Philadelphia International Airport.
What about monkeypox?
As of Aug. 8, the City of Philadelphia has reported 22 CDC-confirmed cases of the monkeypox virus. Dubé said Penn’s medical service is “ready and able” to assist students who need guidance and information or access to treatment or vaccines, but the on-campus risk association remains “extremely low.”
“Monkeypox is in a different family of viruses,” Dubé said, adding that it is far less transmissible than COVID-19. “In order to become infected, it requires prolonged exposure to an infectious individual.”
Dubé said that sitting in a classroom next to someone with undiagnosed monkeypox presents an “extremely low risk of transmission.”
“We just need to take a step back and understand why we’re fearful, which is understandable, but then put it in its proper context, looking at the facts,” Dubé said. “And the facts are reassuring.”