Many students praise this week’s new city guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 and call on their peers to take these regulations seriously as cases continue to climb at Penn and in Philadelphia.
The city of Philadelphia announced new restrictions on Monday banning indoor dining, museums, libraries, and gyms, and indoor gatherings of any size, effective Friday at 5 p.m. until Jan. 1. The recent surge in cases and city restrictions have caused many students to doubt Penn’s plans to open on-campus housing this spring, particularly as some students claim that there continues to be large indoor gatherings and parties off campus.
College junior Kelly MacGarrigle, who is a residential advisor in Rodin College House, said students living on campus have generally been following COVID-19 guidelines by wearing masks and not gathering indoors, noting that visitors are prohibited from entering college houses. She contrasted the on-campus student population with students living off campus, some of whom have been throwing parties despite the rising cases, according to MacGarrigle and Wharton sophomore and 2023 Class Board President Derek Nhieu.
Nhieu cited Halloween parties and large indoor gatherings in which attendees did not wear masks as violations of the Student Campus Compact that have taken place off campus this semester. Both MacGarrigle and Nhieu said they hope that the new restrictions will make more students understand the severity of the pandemic and abide by the rules more strictly.
“I just want to see how [the restrictions] affect off-campus life, if people finally stop throwing parties and understand that there’s a pandemic going on,” MacGarrigle said. “I think it might.”
Nhieu added he is skeptical that Penn will follow through with its current plan to welcome all undergraduate students back to campus, especially if these new guidelines do not significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Philadelphia.
“I wish that these folks would follow the [Student Campus] Compact and proper social distancing guidelines, because obviously I want more of a normal spring semester where people can actually come back safely,” he said.
MacGarrigle agreed, hoping that if off-campus residents become more COVID conscious, Penn will be able to follow through with its current spring plans.
“I’d like for the freshmen to come back and that’s not really going to happen unless the off campus community modifies their behavior in order to respect West Philadelphia,” MacGarrigle said.
For 2020 College graduate and SP2 Master’s student Mackenzie Fierceton, however, the new restrictions indicate that Penn should not invite any of its students back, but she hopes that the University will at least reduce the number of students it will allow on campus.
“[Penn] has put protocols in place, but we all know that when you bring back thousands and thousands of students, there’s only so much you can do,” Fierceton said.
In an email sent to the Penn community Wednesday morning, Provost Wendell Pritchett and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli urged students, faculty, and staff to adhere to the city guidelines and reassured the Penn community that the University has not made any changes to their plans to reopen on-campus housing in the spring.
Philadelphia’s daily new cases have increased more than eightfold since mid-September when daily case counts averaged 90. On Thursday, the city reported 765 new cases of COVID-19. The positivity rate stands at 11.7%, the highest since May, and hospitalizations are rising in the city.
Penn reported its highest weekly case count at 107 cases between Oct. 24 and Oct. 31, largely driven by three household spreads. Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, Penn reported 84 cases, with a positivity rate of 1.64%.
Given the spike in cases and new guidelines, some students have scratched their plans to return home for Thanksgiving break.
MacGarrigle, who hails from Washington, D.C., and Nhieu, who hails from Florida, said they decided it would be more responsible to remain in Philadelphia for the holiday to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.