Alert Levels

The University is currently at
Alert Level 2: Heightened Awareness


Every week, public health guidance from various agencies is collected and combined with an assessment of the transmission rates on campus and in surrounding communities in order to determine the appropriate Alert Level for the Penn community. 

In a parallel fashion, it is important that we all embrace simple measures well within our reach, such as frequent handwashing, staying home when feeling sick, and socializing outdoors whenever possible. We should also continue to rely on PennOpen Pass for symptom management and access to testing. Over the past year, we have identified predictable patterns of transmission that include sharing a meal or attending large social gatherings indoors. We need to carry these lessons forward as we learn to integrate this ever-evolving novel coronavirus into campus life. 

Alert Level 1: Baseline Mitigation Strategies and Routine Operations

This phase of Penn’s campus operations is marked by a limited number of cases on campus with controlled transmission.

  • Members of the University community are expected to follow universal public health guidance coming from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH), the Commonwealth of PA, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 
  • Masking and twice weekly screening testing are required for those who are unvaccinated (or faculty and staff who have not disclosed their vaccination status).

Alert Level 2: Heightened Awareness

Penn will move to a state of Heightened Awareness if conditions suggest increased transmission or cases. Members of the Penn community will be reminded of the importance of being vigilant about new public health guidance.  New additional mitigations strategies may include:

  • Additional indoor masking requirements for vaccinated individuals.
  • Additional targeted screening tests may be instituted in response to rising positivity rates on campus or in surrounding communities.
  • Occupancy restrictions may be required in certain higher risk transmission locations on campus such as dining halls as guided by PDPH.  

Potential triggers:

  • Rising transmission and cases in Philadelphia and neighboring communities. 
  • Increasing number of average contacts per case. 

Alert Level 3: Safer at Home

Penn will temporarily restrict in-person operations campus-wide in an effort to limit community spread. Additional mitigation strategies will include:

  • Masking is required of everyone on campus, both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.
  • All students, faculty, staff, graduate students, and post-docs who come to campus regularly are subject to routine screening testing, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Physical distancing is required of everyone on campus, both indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status. 
  • Occupancy restrictions will be implemented in spaces such as dining halls, libraries, gyms and meeting rooms. 
  • College Houses will restrict certain activities for its residents in order to promote physical distancing.

Potential triggers:

  • Rising transmission and cases in Philadelphia and neighboring communities.
  • Evidence of significant community spread.
  • Significant increase in the presentation of other illness (flu, strep, mono, and mumps for example).
  • Restrictions coming from the CDC, the Commonwealth or the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Alert Level 4: Campus Closure

As directed by the CDC, the Commonwealth of PA or the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, Penn may be asked to suspend most or all on-campus activities.

  • Penn may also be asked to instruct students to leave campus if it was felt to be in the best interest of the health and safety of the University community.
  • Any students diagnosed as COVID-19 positive would need to remain on campus unless arrangements are made for family to pick them up. 
  • Any student that could not travel by private vehicle would remain on campus.
  • College Houses would be de-densified.
  • Courses would be fully remote.

Potential triggers:

  • Increase in prevalence of severe illness or hospitalizations due to COVID-19 on campus and/or in surrounding communities.
  • Limited local hospital ICU capacity.
  • Significant increase in cases in Philadelphia County.
  • Emergence of new variants that may break through vaccine or natural immunity. 
  • Mandate coming from the CDC, the Commonwealth of PA or the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
  • Severely limited staffing (due to COVID or other reasons) results in decreased ability to deliver essential services.

How the Alert Levels Are Determined

In making its determination, the COVID Response Team public health group reviews the following data on a daily basis, assessing the following factors holistically rather than individually:

  • Baseline positivity as determined by gateway testing.
  • Philadelphia weekly case counts: Increase in 7 day rolling average case counts
  • Increase in zip code specific positivity rates.
  • Number of contacts per positive case.
  • Symptomatic test positivity (of faculty, staff, and students). 
  • Isolation and quarantine utilization and capacity for students.
  • Faculty/staff absenteeism.