Wellness Services COVID-19 FAQ

For all members of the Penn Community:

The University remains committed to following data and science and making decisions that are in the best interest of public health. We are not working in a silo. The University has utilized the expertise across its faculty and staff as well as PennMedicine to develop recommendations and strategies unique to Penn. We acknowledge that this remains an evolving pandemic, and some of the specifics of our public health planning remain in development and are intentionally fluid at this time. We are committed to keeping this page updated with our most current guidance to answer many of the common questions and concerns.

For parents:

We fully understand that as parents, you are concerned for your student’s safety. We understand the fluidity of the situation means your family’s decisions must be made without answers to every question. We are committed to prioritizing your student’s health and wellbeing. One of the best things you can do as a parent is talk to your Penn student. Discuss your questions with them. Review the student compact with them. https://fall-2020-planning.upenn.edu/content/student-campus-compact

Our primary tools to minimize person-to-person transmission are:

  • wearing face coverings,
  • staying physically distanced,
  • washing our hands, and
  • completing daily PennOpen Pass symptom checks

Testing is another tool that allows us to identify individuals who may be carriers for SARS-CoV-2 so that they can be isolated in order to stop the spread.


As students returned to the West Philadelphia area for the fall semester, the University provided gateway testing to screen asymptomatic individuals in order to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19. While Gateway testing has ended, we will continue testing in Hall of Flags through the Fall semester. We were very fortunate that our initial testing has revealed a less than 1% positivity rate. Weekly updates on testing results can be found on our COVID-19 Dashboard.

Hours: Testing is available 8am – 4pm Monday through Friday and Saturdays 8am-2pm.

Before you arrive at the testing site, make sure you are have and bring the following:

  • this requisition form (please fill out the bottom half if possible)
  • two forms of ID
  • and please remember to wear a face mask

We will be performing thermal screening at the test site so we ask that you wait by the tents outside of Irvine Auditorium.

Please also complete your PennOpen Pass for the day so that we can check you pass.

Next Steps

1.  Symptomatic Testing

In tandem with gateway testing, the University established an ongoing comprehensive program, using the digital tool PennOpen Pass. It allows for the rapid identification, and testing of symptomatic students, faculty, postdocs, and staff conducted at the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall. For scheduling, please follow instructions provided by PennOpen Pass.

2. Close Contact Testing

PennOpen Pass also allows for the rapid identification of those with potential exposure to the virus, and their referral to testing at Houston Hall, based on the timing of the exposure and assessment of the risk of infection. See scheduling information below for appointments.

3. Mitigating the Risk of Transmission

We know that up to 15 to 25% of people with COVID-19 can remain without symptoms but are still capable of transmitting the virus. In recognition of this evidence, in conjunction with a review of data from outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses across the U.S, we will ask segments of the Penn community to be tested on a weekly basis, even in the absence of symptoms. This approach, called surveillance testing, will apply to students, faculty, postdocs, and staff who have a sustained presence on campus in congregate settings, environments where a number of people reside, meet or gather in close proximity for either a limited or extended period of time. These interactions occur in environments where the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), used, for example, by health care practitioners in a clinical or laboratory setting, is absent.

Using this data-driven approach for those with a heightened risk of transmission, we will send invitations to enroll in surveillance testing to the following:

  • Students, faculty, postdocs, and staff who are present on campus for at least 8 hours every week, and whose activities are done in a congregate setting that involves at least 10 people.
  • Students, faculty, postdocs, and staff who share a residential space with 3 or more individuals with whom they are not related. This will include those who live in our college housing system.

The surveillance program will roll out starting on September 14 in a phased fashion.

SchedulingHere you will find a guide with appointment scheduling instructions. You will be able to schedule, cancel, and reschedule your appointment via the links below in your confirming email. Remember: undergraduate students are expected to schedule 2 tests, 7 days (minimum) apart.

Please schedule your appointment via one of the links below. We have them arranged alphabetical by last name:

  • Link 1: schedule here  Last name beginning with A- F          (or Saturday hours)
  • Link 2: schedule here  Last name beginning with G-M         (or Saturday hours)
  • Link 3: schedule here  Last name beginning with N-S
  • Link 4: schedule here  Last name beginning with T-Z

To schedule on Saturdays, please use links 1 or 2.

Moving Forward Technology and access to testing is advancing quickly. While we will continue to use nasal swabs for testing for the fall semester, we are continuing to explore the feasibility of novel options.

Please review the FAQ below. For additional questions, please contact coronavirus@upenn.edu.


Are you still sending at-home kits to students in the U.S.?

No, due to unforeseen challenges with our vendors, the at-home test kits will not be sent.

I changed my home address in Penn In Touch. What do I do now?

Please go into the system online and change your permanent address back to what it should be. Make sure the “learning from” field reflects where you are actually learning from.

Do I still need to quarantine at home before I travel to Penn? If so, for how long, and what kind of quarantine?

The Campus Compact recommends that all students and family members or guests accompanying students take every precaution possible to ensure their health prior to leaving their home (domestic or international) for Philadelphia, including quarantining for 14 days before arrival to your Philadelphia residence. Students traveling internationally or from current domestic hot spots should follow the public health guidance provided. This cannot be enforced, but the recommendation is consistent with current federal, state, and local public health guidance.

Some of my roommates are already in our off-campus house, and others are coming at different times. How is this going to work so we will all be safe?

Students living off-campus should coordinate with their roommates and landlords so that arrival in shared residences can occur over a series of days to minimize contact with others.

What should I do before coming to campus?

  1. Pack your favorite masks or face coverings.
  2. The University recommends 14 days of quarantine prior to traveling to campus. Can we enforce it? No. Is it the responsible thing to do as we continue to navigate these challenging and unprecedented times? Yes.
  3. Be familiar with the Penn Campus Compact. It applies to ALL students, undergraduate and graduate. “All of us in the Penn community have a communal responsibility, as we continue to navigate these challenging and unprecedented times, to balance the health and safety needs of our community with the University’s core missions.”   https://fall-2020-planning.upenn.edu/content/student-campus-compact


Can I live on campus?

Regrettably in most circumstances, the answer is no. With only very limited exceptions for international students and those students dealing with significant housing or personal hardships, we will not be able to accommodate undergraduate students in University housing. Students who need to apply for on-campus housing exceptions can do so at My Home at Penn.

I have additional questions about the University’s August 11, 2020 announcement. Where can I find additional information?

The University has created additional FAQs to address many of these issues.


Will Campus Testing be available?

Yes, once Gateway Testing wraps up, the University will continue to offer both symptomatic and asymptomatic students throughout the semester. 

I’m a graduate or professional student, what does the Gateway Testing process look like for me?

We will be offering testing for all graduate students through September 12th, 2020. Please schedule your test above. This will be provided free-of-charge to those approved to be on-campus.

How will the testing and move-in process work for students living off campus?

Please schedule your test above. Off-campus students should make plans to have necessary food and medical supplies in their residence prior to their testing. Students must quarantine in their residence after the test while awaiting test results. Penn expects all students to adhere to the same public health requirements, regardless of whether they live on campus or off campus.

What kind of test will you administer on campus?

Penn will administer the anterior nares (lower nostril, less-invasive) nasal test option on campus.

How long until I receive my test result?

It will take 48 hours to receive a result from the on-campus test upon arrival.

I heard I also have to get a flu shot on campus this fall. Are there any exceptions to that?

As outlined in the Campus Compact, by returning to campus as a student this academic year, you agree to receive a flu shot. Flu shots will be available in September/October at SHS, as well as the annual Flu Clinic, which will also look differently this year to follow recommended physical distancing strategies.

Will there be antibody tests available at Penn?

Right now, antibody tests are not recommended because the virus is so new and we’re still learning about it. As this changes, the availability of antibody tests will change. Even if you have had COVID19, you should still wear a mask or face covering, and abide by the rules outlined in the Campus Compact.

How do I access my secure messages to view my results?

  1. Go to https://shs.upenn.edu
  2. Enter your PennKey and password
  3. Enter your birthday to verify your identity
  4. Click “Messages” in the navigation bar on the left

For additional questions related to testing, please email covidtesting@upenn.edu.


What happens when a student tests positive?

First and foremost, no student is ever in trouble or penalized for being sick or exposed to a communicable illness. Student privacy, and the student’s ability to maintain an active role in the public health process, is of utmost importance to us.

A contact tracer follows up with any student who tests positive to ensure the student isolates and gets the needed healthcare. The contact tracer will also ask the student about their activities leading up to infection and the contacts they may have had. These conversations are thorough, nuanced, and require collaboration between the student and contact tracer.

The notification of contacts is performed without identifying the student source and notifies other students who have had high-risk exposure.

One goal of contact tracing is to trace and monitor contacts of infected people. Contact tracers notify students of their exposure through the student medical record.

The second goal is to support the quarantine of contacts to prevent additional transmission.

What is a close contact?

With COVID-19, close contacts are identified as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case. That last definition could identify many contacts. In the case of clinical and lab settings, PPE often mitigates the risk of proximity+length of exposure. To ensure this is the case, the case investigation asks very detailed questions about these interactions to ensure the appropriate risk is assigned. These risk levels vary as public health guidance changes; working collaboratively with the contact tracer is vitally important.

What happens to the close contact?

Any close contacts identified as at risk of exposure to a confirmed case are notified to quarantine and offered testing at Day 7 post-exposure. However, for a close contact of a confirmed case, even a negative test on Day 7 post-exposure does NOT eliminate the need for the full 14 day quarantine in most situations. The incubation period for COVID-19 is 2-14 days. Testing on Day 7 post-exposure allows us to capture most new cases related to the initial exposure.

Do you notify my school about my need to quarantine or isolate?

Because we want students to feel empowered to participate in these important public health activities, students are encouraged to notify the School (or program) themselves of their need to be out of class or clinicals. If that is not an option for them, or if they feel uncomfortable doing so, the contact tracers will notify the school on their behalf. School advisors and instructors are also aware of this policy and will not require documentation should a student indicate they are unable to attend class due to illness or isolation.

There are additional protocols in place for students with in-person clinical requirements: the contact tracers coordinate patient outreach with the school if the student has had recent patient interactions.

Oh no! I just found out I may have been exposed to a potential or confirmed COVID19 case, what do I do now?

Don’t panic, it’s going to be ok. There are a couple ways you may find out about a potential exposure to a case.

  • First, understand how you can be exposed. Exposure most commonly occurs through close contact. Close contact is defined as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case.
  • If you received a secure message and/or phone call from the Campus Health team, it is important to follow all the instructions provided in the message and on the phone. Pay close attention to your quarantine or isolation date and to your testing date.
  • If you learned of a potential exposure elsewhere and have not been contacted by Campus Health, please notify Campus Health by completing your PennOpen pass symptom check, check “yes” when asked about exposure to a confirmed COVID case, answer the additional contact questions, then follow the instructions provided after the second set of questions.

DO NOT GET TESTED RIGHT AWAY, it is important you wait until 7 days post-exposure to get tested. It may take time for the virus to take hold in the body and show up on a test, prior to 7 days, your test may not be accurate.

Always reach out to SHS if you develop symptoms or your symptoms worsen. If Campus Health and Student Health Service (SHS) are aware of your exposure, they will reach out frequently during the duration of your quarantine to check in on your health and offer support.

My friend is a confirmed case, why hasn’t anyone contacted me?

Your name likely did not come up in the investigation. Close contacts are identified as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case. The risk level of each contact will be assigned after the completion of a case investigation where detailed information about the exposure will be collected from the case, or PUI (person under investigation). If you feel you fit this description, please complete your PennOpen Pass symptom check, marking “yes” for contact with a lab confirmed case of COVID 19, and follow the instructions given, this will likely include calling the PennOpen Pass Call Center at  215-573-6355.


Current public health guidance includes:

What is quarantine or isolation?

Quarantine and isolation are public health measures used to reduce or prevent the spread of illness. Isolation refers to separating a sick person with a contagious disease away from others. Quarantine means separating a healthy person or group of healthy people away from others due to exposure to a contagious disease. In both instances, University staff will remain in regular communication with students to support their wellbeing and offer additional virtual resources as appropriate.

What does quarantine look like?

A recommendation to quarantine includes the advice to stay at home, limit the sharing of bathrooms and common areas (e.g. kitchens, living rooms) with others, increase cleaning of common areas, and physically distancing from others in your home or apartment as much as possible. Penn community members who are asked to quarantine should not travel, go to class, work, or participate in any social activities. They should not host friends or small gatherings, and they should not attend small gatherings.

In quarantine, food and groceries should be ordered online and delivered as much as possible, or have meals and groceries dropped off by friends. Wear a mask or face covering anytime you are not alone.

Students in quarantine or isolation receive continued care and support from Student Health and CAPS clinicians as needed or requested. Other University services are also made available to the student as needed.

What does isolation look like?

For students living on campus, students will be moved into the isolation facility where they will have their own bathroom and kitchen Depending on capacity, students living off-campus may also be moved into the isolation facility. For all Penn community members off-campus, isolation means staying at home alone in your bedroom except to use the bathroom. All people in isolation have to order food in, or ask a friend or roommate to drop off groceries or a meal. Masks or facial coverings must be worn anytime students are outside of the bedroom. Do not travel, go to class, work, or participate in any social activities. Do not host friends or small gatherings. Do not attend small gatherings.

Students in quarantine or isolation receive continued care and support from Student Health and CAPS clinicians as needed or requested. Other University services are also made available to the student as needed.

If a student or instructor develops COVID and contact tracing indicates that the student was in an in-person class, then will the guidance be that all students from the class will need to self-isolate for 14 days, and will the classroom or building be sanitized?

It depends! Case investigations are incredibly detailed and nuanced in order to get the most accurate information and to properly assess risk.

In this scenario, only that individual and their close contacts would be notified to quarantine or isolate. Close contacts would be identified after a contact tracing interview done by someone our public health team at Penn; close contacts are defined as individuals who were closer than 6 feet apart for more than 15 minutes. Based on the public health rules put forth for in-person instruction this Fall, namely requiring face coverings and respecting distancing of more than 6 feet, no one in attendance during class would be deemed a close contact. As for classroom sanitizing, this would also not be necessary as surface transmission is mitigated by our enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.

If someone get tested positive in my apartment, does everyone in the apartment need to be quarantined?

Yes. And that 14 day quarantine countdown clock cannot start until the confirmed case completes isolation. See a visual representation of quarantine guidelines here.

This is where it is important to remember that an individual’s behaviors directly impact those around them. We are all in this together.

Why does my friend/roommate/housemate have a different quarantine date than mine?

Each person’s case is nuanced, CDC recommendations for quarantine/isolation differ depending on the nuances of each case. It is not unusual for different contacts of one positive case to have different quarantine/isolation dates.

Who can I talk to with questions about my quarantine/isolation dates?

Campus Health will send quarantine/isolation dates and testing recommendations in a secure message through the Student Health portal. You can respond to the message there with your questions.


During my quarantine, can I see any of my housemates? Can I go outside or be in any common rooms?

A recommendation to quarantine includes the advice to stay at home, limit the sharing of bathrooms and common areas (e.g. kitchens, living rooms) with others, increase cleaning of common areas, and physically distancing from others in your home or apartment as much as possible. Penn community members who are asked to quarantine should not travel, go to class, work, or participate in any social activities. They should not host friends or small gatherings, and they should not attend small gatherings. Wear a mask or face covering anytime you are not alone.

How do I start my classes during quarantine?

Since the majority of instruction will be online this semester, you can begin your classes online while in quarantine.

How are you going to monitor off campus students to ensure they stick to the 14-day quarantine?

Penn expects all students to adhere to the same public health requirements and follow the Campus Compact, regardless of whether they live on campus or off campus. Students in quarantine or isolation will have regular check-ins from the University.

I have a positive antibody test, do I still need to be tested and/or quarantine/isolate?

Yes! While antibody tests feel useful and may be helpful in the future, they are not yet reliable. There are currently no FDA approved antibody tests, and the accuracy of these tests is unknown. Research on COVID 19 is still preliminary, so it is still unclear how much protection the presence of antibodies and known previous infection offers. You should comply with any public health instructions you receive regardless of antibody test results.

What support will be available for me during my quarantine, whether I live on campus or off campus?

Penn resources (Student Health 215-746-3535 and CAPS 215-898-7021) are open and reachable for any student in need during their required quarantine.


What is the purpose of PennOpen Pass?

PennOpen Pass is part of Penn’s strategy to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the Penn community. The purpose of this program is to:

  1. Identify individuals whose health may be at risk and/or may pose health risks to others due to COVID-19
  2. To ensure that individuals at risk receive appropriate assistance and follow up, which may include COVID-19 testing, self-isolation, contact tracing, and medical care
  3. To monitor trends related to COVID-19 to ensure timely allocation of resources for campus health and safety.

If you get a GREEN pass you are granted access to necessary campus spaces for the day

If you get a RED pass, you will not be granted access to campus buildings until your red pass is cleared. Call the number provided on the pass for further instructions on how and when your red pass will be cleared. 

Do I have to use the app PennOpen Pass?

The app is actually a daily symptom check called PennOpen Pass. It does not have to be done on an app. The entire community is healthier when PennOpen Pass is used daily—even on the days you’re NOT coming to campus.

Is my data secure?

Please see the full data security statement here: https://pennopen.med.upenn.edu/privacy.pdf . We are not tracking your activities through PennOpen Pass.


Who would a student contact if he/she are experiencing symptoms?

PennOpen Pass should be used every day. If you receive a green pass and would like to discuss your symptoms with a medical provider, Student Health is always available to you: 215-746-3535.

Why can’t we hang out in groups of X people or more?

COVID-19 isn’t gone; we are all learning to co-exist with COVID19. Length of time and proximity to the virus increase your risk for infection. Keeping groups small allows for appropriate physical distancing. You should always wear your mask when around others. Penn students must abide by the regulations established by local, state, and federal public health agencies as well.

I have older or immunocompromised relatives at home. Is it safe for me to travel home after the semester?

Yes, after the semester you can safely spend time with older or immunocompromised relatives. Wear face coverings or masks, physically distance, wash your hands often, and clean and sanitizer touched surfaces regularly.

How will labs and more hands-on oriented classes be safely conducted?

In person classes are depopulating class sizes (e.g. limited seating and bigger rooms) to allow for appropriate physical distancing. In places where that’s not possible, appropriate PPE will be worn.

Will students be able to access libraries?

Beginning in October 2020, graduate and professional students will be able to reserve a limited number of seats in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center for use as study space. Please see the Penn Libraries website for the latest information on library service availability

How do I stay healthy?

To continue to keep yourself healthy and well, follow these tips:

  1. Wear a facial covering at all times when you leave your residence.
  2. Please remember to maintain (6 feet) physical distance from others whenever possible.
  3. Stay home if you are feeling unwell. If you are not feeling better after 24 hours, seek medical guidance.
  4. Use good hand hygiene: Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  5. Limit the spread of germs and illness: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow. Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, cups, vapes/JUULs, etc.

How does wearing a mask and social distancing protect me? 

COVID 19 is spread through respiratory droplets that may come out of your mouth or nose. Wearing a mask limits the spread of your respiratory droplets and minimizes the chance you will come in contact with the respiratory droplets of others. Additionally, respiratory droplets can only travel about 6 feet in distance so social distancing adds additional protection, combining both greatly reduces your chances of contracting COVID 19 if you come in contact with someone who is a confirmed case. Cases can be either asymptomatic or symptomatic so you should always wear a mask and social distance when spending time with people outside your household.

What should I do if I have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath and/or I want to get tested?

Anyone with cough, fever, shortness of breath, or a known exposure to someone with COVID-19, should call Student Health Service at 215-746-3535. Our medical providers can walk you through that process.

Additional coronavirus information can be found at https://wellness.upenn.edu/coronavirus/ and https://fall-2020-planning.upenn.edu/content/faq-08112020

Our hearts go out to our Penn community and families around the globe that have been impacted by the recent coronavirus outbreak. Let’s stand together to keep Penn healthy, welcoming and understanding.

Last Updated: 9/2/2020