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09-24-21-locust-walk-masks-tampon-sheil-desai
Credit: Sheil Desai

After four weeks of in-person classes and on-campus life, Penn's COVID-19 case count has remained low, and the University has seen no proof of classroom transmission.

Between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25, 55 Penn community members tested positive for COVID-19 out of a total of 15,471 community members who received tests. The positivity rate was 0.36%, which is similar to the previous week's positivity rate of 0.38%. During the first two weeks of the semester, the positivity rate remained close to 1%.

A total of 312 Penn community members have tested positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 29 and Sept. 25 out of over 35,000 community members who were tested. Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said the continued low case count and positivity rate show that the University's layered mitigation strategies — including bi-weekly testing for students, mask wearing in indoor spaces, and the continued use of PennOpen Pass — are working.

"Collectively we are doing pretty good," Dubé said. "This doesn't mean that we should be complacent and sit on our hands, but there is proof of concept. We can coexist with COVID-19. We can resume a semblance of normalcy if we continue what we are doing now."

Dubé emphasized that it is not the time to loosen any restrictions and urged students not to let their guards down, even as the University's COVID-19 case count remains low. He also attributed the small number of cases to the fact that the University previous reported that 97% of students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said the majority of COVID-19 cases within the Penn community have been traced to off-campus, indoor gatherings where food and drinks were shared.

"We know students are going to be social after time away and time inside," Halbritter said. "But at the same time, they shouldn't be surprised when they test positive or develop symptoms if they've been heavy on the social circuit at big gatherings where masks are not being worn."

Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may still test positive for COVID-19; however, breakthrough infections are rare and are unlikely to result in hospitalization or death, NBC10 Philadelphia reported.

Halbritter also encouraged students to be mindful of their travel decisions as fall break nears. She said while traveling itself is a risk, behaviors associated with travel — such as going out to restaurants and interacting with a larger social circle — pose even greater risks.

"Travel is still a risk," Halbritter said. "But the Penn community and campus is one of the best places to be because we do have mask requirements and we do largely have compliance from students and staff. We are grateful and hope it stays this way."

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