We write to provide you with the University’s current plans for the spring semester, which will begin on January 20, 2021.
The current fall semester has given us essential information and insights into how best to manage campus life as the pandemic continues its worldwide spread. With a limited number of students on campus and in West Philadelphia this fall, we have been able to successfully minimize risk to our community through effective testing and tracing systems, rigorous enforcement of the guidelines enacted to protect the health of our community, and, most importantly, the conscientious commitment of students, faculty, and staff, for which we are grateful.
As we approach the spring semester, we have been working with Penn Medicine to dramatically expand our testing capacity. With additional testing available, we are confident that we can support increased numbers of students returning to campus in January. While we will not be able to house as many students as we would have pre-COVID, we will be opening on-campus housing, subject to certain limitations to enable proper social distancing. Students will be in single bedrooms with shared bathrooms at no more than a 6:1 ratio. Priority will be given to first-, second- and fourth-year undergraduates who still wish to live in on-campus college housing, and we also expect to be able to accommodate third-year undergraduates who still wish to live in on-campus college housing. Those who have signed up for on-campus housing will receive specific details directly from Residential Services. A limited number of rooms may be available for graduate students in Sansom Place East for the spring semester. If so, the application will be made available in early December. Students who signed up to live in Greek sponsored housing will receive more specific details from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
Students who choose to return to campus will be able to engage in a variety of small-group interactions and have access to library study space, outdoor athletic facilities, and other extracurricular activities, all subject to public health guidelines and our Student Campus Compact. (A decision on spring athletics from the Ivy League has not yet been made.) While we are welcoming students back, we also know that campus life will not be as it was prior to the pandemic. Strict public health protocols will remain in place. Students, faculty, and staff will continue to be required to wear face coverings when on campus or in facilities other than their personal residences, practice social distancing, avoid large gatherings, and follow additional specific requirements as appropriate.
The hybrid educational experiences for all students in the spring are likely to be similar to this fall: most classes will be delivered remotely, with limited exceptions, including courses with clinical experiences and in-person research required for graduation. We expect to see a modest increase in in-person instruction during the spring semester. Specific modes of teaching and course delivery will be determined by the deans and faculty of each school. The University is taking extensive steps to minimize risks associated with in-person instruction, and all core curricula classes will be made available for remote access to support those students who prefer to remain off-campus due to health concerns. Graduate and professional programs will continue to evaluate their own operations, consistent with public health limitations.
Students returning to campus in January will be expected to participate in a quiet period for two weeks, limiting their contact to those in their immediate “pods” and leaving their residence only for essential reasons. This has proven to be an effective way to minimize disease transmission upon entry.
Adherence to the guidelines for conduct during the pandemic as outlined in the Student Campus Compact will continue to be required of all students. Among other conditions outlined in the Compact, students are required to receive a flu shot before their return. Proof of immunization to the flu will be a condition of attendance.
To maximize our ability to protect the community from the coronavirus, all undergraduates will be required to be tested for COVID-19 twice per week upon their return to campus, and all graduate and professional students engaged in research activities on campus or living in the area once per week. We will be utilizing a saliva-based testing system that will be administered at eight sites across campus to ensure easy access to the testing. The contact tracing system put in place this fall will also continue to be utilized.
In addition, in order to offer important additional protection for the Penn community, screening testing will be required for faculty, staff, and postdocs who are on campus for four or more hours each week interacting with other community members, or whose activities on campus involve teaching, or who are regularly in an aggregate setting of ten or more people in a single shared space on campus. All other faculty, staff, and postdocs who are engaged in any on-campus activities are encouraged to participate in screening testing. Penn Medicine faculty, house staff, medical students on clinical rotations, and staff will continue to follow health system guidelines for screening using PennOpen Pass. A detailed testing protocol, designed to ensure a safe and efficient process, will be provided before the Spring semester gets underway.
Everyone who comes to campus (faculty, staff and students) will be required to enroll in PennOpen Pass. PennOpen Pass is a daily symptom checker and exposure reporting system designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the Penn community. Daily symptom checks or exposure reporting on PennOpen Pass are required of those who are on campus.
Administrative functions that can operate remotely will continue to do so during the spring semester. With students returning to campus in greater numbers, there will be a modest increase in essential student support staff available on campus. Faculty and staff are encouraged to consult with their deans and supervisors regarding their specific responsibilities and expectations for spring semester, and to be familiar with the COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for Faculty and Staff.
While we are confident in our ability to bring students back to campus in the spring, we are also mindful that the status of the pandemic can change, and we will continue to monitor all governmental and public health recommendations, lest there be a surge in transmission that requires a change in our planning and operations. Those who wish to monitor the state of the pandemic at Penn can always see the most current data at our Coronavirus Dashboard. Updated information about the spring semester and Penn’s response to the pandemic can always be found at the Penn COVID-19 website.
We recognize what a difficult year this has been for everyone. To students and families, we appreciate your patience as we do all that we possibly can both to provide a meaningful and uplifting educational experience and to protect the safety of those on campus. To faculty and staff who have worked so tirelessly to ensure the strong and seamless operations of our educational, research, and clinical missions, we cannot thank you enough.
At difficult times like these character really matters. The grace and determination of the entire Penn community have been inspiring. Continuing to work together, we are confident that the spring semester will be a good and productive one. Thank you all for making this possible.
We will be providing additional details in the weeks ahead, and will continue to keep you updated if there are any changes to our plans.