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Credit: Kylie Cooper

Penn issued 9,130 red PennOpen Passes on Tuesday to students who have failed to comply with the University's COVID-19 testing requirement within the past two weeks.

The University requires that all vaccinated students receive at least one COVID-19 test every two weeks, and if they fail to do so, they will receive a red PennOpen Pass until they test negative. Students who receive red PennOpen Passes typically are barred from all Penn buildings, but Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said the University is making an exception this week and allowing students with non-compliance red passes to access most academic spaces through the end of the week.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Paul Sniegowski first announced the red PennOpen Passes in an email to students in the College on Tuesday morning, writing that students could still attend class on Tuesday if they had been issued a non-compliance red pass. Students who remain non-compliant with the testing requirement will lose access to all academic spaces beginning Oct. 23. 

Dubé said the decision to allow students to access academic buildings this week was made because academic operations would have been considerably hampered otherwise.

"There were a number of exams that would have needed to be rescheduled for over half of the class. We had to make sure our processes did not impede the academic mission, while also keeping everyone safe," Dubé said. "That being said, there will be no future exceptions. Students got in their own way today, and we need to acknowledge this and move forward together."

Dubé said that the 9,130 students who failed to test in the past two weeks are an even split between undergraduate and graduate students.

Following Sniegowski's email and students receiving red PennOpen Passes this morning, hundreds of students flocked to the Du Bois COVID-19 testing site, causing long lines, while others called a number of campus health hotlines, creating a backlog, Director of Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said.

"When people call this much and come to the testing center all at once, this creates major backlogs in our processes," Halbritter said. "Campus Health can't answer the calls from students who are actually ill, the [COVID-19 testing] lab gets backed up, and contact tracers can't make the calls they need to."

Dubé and Halbritter said students who are looking to flip their non-compliance red passes green should ideally schedule a test to avoid a line. After testing, students should remain patient as it could take up to 24 hours for their testing result to return. Once a student gets their negative result back, their PennOpen Pass will turn green, Halbritter explained.

Bi-weekly testing remains a key component of Penn's multi-layered strategy to preventing the spread of COVID-19 on campus, Dubé said. This semester, the University mandated that all students be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks indoors. Penn reported last week that 99% of undergraduate students are fully vaccinated.

Dubé emphasized that the University's polices are working, pointing to the continued low positivity rate on campus. Between Oct. 10 and Oct. 16, 33 Penn community members tested positive for COVID-19 out of a total of 9,203 community members who received tests. The positivity rate was 0.36%, staying on par with positivity rates in the past three weeks of 0.40% between Sept. 19 and Sept. 25, 0.41% between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, and 0.35% between Oct. 3 and Oct. 9.

Halbritter encouraged students to get tested as soon as possible this week and to schedule their tests for the future. Students who schedule their COVID-19 tests receive a reminder email 24 hours before their appointment, she said.

"The red passes are a reminder to get tested; this is not meant to be punitive," Halbritter said. "Students have to take ownership of their end of the bargain, and this is what we saw this week. We just need everyone to do their part."