An Update on the Health and Safety of the Penn Community During the Fall Semester

September 11, 2020

The health and safety of our community remain our highest priorities. As we complete the second week of the fall semester, we continue our strong commitment to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread within the Penn community.

This message provides an overview of the tools, including testing, that we have and will use during the fall semester. Our primary tools to minimize person-to-person transmission are:

* wearing facial coverings

* staying physically distanced

* washing our hands

* completing daily PennOpen Pass symptom checks

Testing also allows us to identify individuals who are positive for SARS-CoV-2 so that they can be isolated in order to prevent the spread.


Preparing the Campus for the Fall Semester

In order to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 as students returned to the West Philadelphia area for the fall semester, the University provided gateway testing for undergraduates and graduate students involved in on-campus activities to screen asymptomatic individuals. This gateway testing began on August 1 and ends on September 12. We are very fortunate that more than 10,000 tests revealed a less than 1% positivity rate. Weekly updates on testing results can be found on our COVID-19 Dashboard.


Our Approach to Testing During the Fall Semester

As we transition from gateway testing, we have identified additional strategies and planned for the following priorities:

Symptomatic Testing

Penn, along with our partners in Penn Medicine, established an ongoing comprehensive program for tracking COVID-19 symptoms among students, faculty, postdocs, and staff who participate in PennOpen Pass. This rapid identification tool, in tandem with the gateway testing, is an effective strategy for minimizing person to person spread of disease.  Completing daily symptom checks in PennOpen Pass is critical to sustaining the health of our community.

Close Contact Testing

PennOpen Pass also allows for the rapid identification of those individuals 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.

Mitigating the Risk of Transmission Through Ongoing Testing

We know that up to 15%-25% of people with COVID-19 may not display symptoms but are still capable of transmitting the virus. Having reviewed data from outbreaks of COVID-19 on college campuses across the US, 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, defined as environments in which a number of people reside, meet, or gather in a common shared space, in environments without the use of personal protective equipment (which is used, for example, by health care practitioners in a clinical or laboratory setting). Using this data-driven approach for those with a heightened risk of transmission, we will send invitations to enroll in surveillance testing, beginning on September 14, to:

  • 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, including those who live in College Houses.


Moving Forward

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


In partnership and in health,

Benoit Dubé, MD
Associate Provost and Chief Wellness OfficerUniversity of Pennsylvania

Last Updated 09/11/2020 - 15:20