Faculty, Postdoc, and Staff FAQs
Is the vaccine required for Penn faculty, staff, and postdocs?
Consistent with Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) guidance, the University requires all current faculty, staff, and postdocs to be fully vaccinated, except for those with medical or religious exemptions, by October 15, 2021. Unless you are granted an exemption, failure to report full vaccination will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Access the latest information on vaccinations and exemptions.
How do I request a medical or religious exemption?
Please download the exemption forms located on the Vaccinations page. Each form explains the qualifying criteria for exemption and how to complete and submit the request form. If the University does not approve your request, you must comply with the University mandate to be fully vaccinated and report the details in Workday by October 15, 2021. To be fully vaccinated by October 15, you must receive your vaccination doses by the following dates:
- The two-dose Pfizer vaccine: First shot by September 10 and second by October 1
- The two-dose Moderna vaccine: first shot by September 3 and second by October 1
- The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine: Shot by October 1
How do I upload my vaccine documentation?
If I am getting the COVID-19 vaccine, or experience side effects from the vaccine, do I need to use paid sick time?
Yes, if you are taking time away from work to attend a vaccine appointment, or if you need time off as a result of receiving a vaccine, you must submit to use paid time off or sick time.
If I am fully vaccinated, do I still have to participate in Penn Cares Screening Testing?
Visit the Testing Program page for the latest screening testing reqiurements.
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals are considered to be fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose, such as Johnson & Johnson's Janseen vaccine.
If you do not meet these requirements, regardless of your age, you are NOT fully vaccinated and should take all safety precautions until you are fully vaccinated.
How many doses will I need to get?
The vaccines that are currently available and authorized by the Federal Drug Administration are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both require two doses in order to provide protection against COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose.
Do I have to get the same type of vaccine for my second dose?
Yes, the two doses received by either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech must be from the same manufacturer for both vaccines.
Which vaccines will be accepted?
Penn will accept the vaccines listed below:
- Pfizer-BioNTech (fully approved by the United States’ Food and Drug Administration)
- Moderna (granted emergency use authorization (EUA) through the United States’ Food and Drug Administration)
- Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (granted emergency use authorization (EUA) through the United States’ Food and Drug Administration)
Additionally, there are numerous vaccines that are available in other countries. Penn will accept those that have been “pre-qualified” or authorized for “Emergency Use Listing” (EUL) by the World Health Organization (WHO) evaluation process. As of June 4, this list also includes:
Additional vaccines may be authorized in the coming months. The WHO vaccine evaluation list can be found on the WHO's Emergency Use Listing for COVID-19 Vaccines page, under the Status of COVID-19 Vaccines within WHO EUL/PQ evaluation process link. When accessing this document, the word "finalized" must appear under Status of Assessment.
How do I know if my colleagues at work are vaccinated?
The University is requiring all faculty, staff, and postdocs, as well as students, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. If an individual is exempt from vaccination, they will be required to participate in twice-weekly Penn Cares screening testing, and follow other public health guidelines, including masking indoors. If individuals are participating in twice-weekly screening testing, they too are taking appropriate precautions to protect their colleagues. This information will be maintained securely, with access limited to those individuals engaged in health and safety functions for Penn all on a need-to-know basis.
I’m worried that working with someone who is not vaccinated may get me sick. What can I do?
Being vaccinated and following all public health guidance are the best steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19.
How is the vaccine data I provide protected?
Penn is committed to the responsible stewardship of the personal information collected. This information will be maintained securely, with access limited to those individuals engaged in health and safety functions for Penn all on a need-to-know basis. For additional information about the privacy of COVID-19 vaccination information, please see the Privacy Disclosure, linked here.
About the COVID-19 Vaccine
What have we learned about the vaccine since December when the first shots were administered?
More than 1.6 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, and more than a third of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. The vaccines have proven to be highly effective and safe. Very few recipients of the vaccine have developed COVID-19, and the vaccine has proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, death, and spread of the virus.
Visit the CDC website for Key Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines.
Do the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines contain blood products?
The manufacturers of the currently-authorized mRNA vaccines, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, have both indicated that no blood or blood products are used in the manufacturing of their vaccines, and the vaccines do not contain any products of human origin. The Pfizer product does contain materials from bovine milk, but no animal blood or blood products.
Does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine contain the COVID-19 virus?
No, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not contain the COVID-19 virus. It is a vector vaccine. Vector vaccines use genetic material from the COVID-19 virus that is placed inside a weakened version of another virus, such as one of the viruses that causes the common cold.
The weakened virus is then injected into your body, delivering information from the COVID virus. That information instructs your cells to copy the spike protein that is unique to COVID-19 and create antibodies against the spike protein. It is impossible for a viral vector COVID vaccine to cause you to become infected with COVID-19, cause a common cold, or to change your DNA.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine change my DNA?
No. This myth may have arisen from the fact that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain messenger RNA. RNA is a type of genetic material, but it’s not the same as DNA. The RNA does not enter the cell nucleus, which is where your DNA lives. It does all of its work in your cell cytoplasm. That’s the outer portion of the cell. Plus, the instructions mRNA (created here at Penn) carries to your cells are only for a piece of SARSCoV-2, not the whole virus.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
No. It is not possible to get COVID-19 from vaccines.
Are the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being used in the United States developed using fetal tissue?
No. The COVID-19 vaccines that are either authorized or up for authorization in the United States were not developed — nor do they use in any way, shape, or form — any fetal tissue. Johnson & Johnson used fetal cell cultures when developing its vaccine, but it contains no fetal tissue or fetal cells.
I’ve already had COVID-19. Am I required to get the vaccine?
Yes. Due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, people are advised to get a COVID-19 vaccine even if they have already been sick with COVID-19. At this time, experts do not know how long someone is protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19. The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person, and the evidence suggests natural immunity may not last long in some people.
Should I be concerned the vaccine will negatively impact my health?
The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and postdocs are our highest priority. More than 1.6 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. The risk of side effects from the vaccine is rare and outweighed by the risk of dying from COVID-19. In fact, the vaccines have been proven to be highly effective and safe. Very few recipients of the vaccine have developed COVID-19, and the vaccine has proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, death, and the spread of the virus.
What is the University's current public health guidance?
For the most up-to-date information, visit the Public Health Guidance page.
Do I need to continue using PennOpen Pass even if I have been fully vaccinated?
The daily use of PennOpen Pass is required for all on campus to report symptoms and/or exposures to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading within the community. Symptom checks must be completed before the start of each day, including on weekends, to reduce the risk that any COVID-19 case could lead to an outbreak.
This tool also helps connect users to official public health guidance and clinical support. Although it is not required for entry into most on-campus buildings, it is needed for entry into healthcare spaces, including Penn Medicine facilities, the Penn Cares testing sites, and Student Health and Counseling offices.
Everyone on campus should complete their daily symptom and exposure check. Be prepared to follow the guidance if PennOpen Pass provides a Red Pass. Be prepared to show a Green Pass as individual Schools and Centers may require its use for building entry.
How should I enter my symptoms in PennOpen Pass in the first 48 hours after receiving my COVID-19 vaccine?
Do not report symptoms of unusual fatigue, fevers, or chills if you received a COVID vaccine within the past 48 hours. If you have other symptoms or these symptoms persist beyond 48 hours, report as usual. After 48 hours, PennOpen Pass will help distinguish between symptoms related to the vaccine and those which require other clinical guidance.
Now that I'm fully vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask and follow other public health guidance?
For the most up-to-date information, visit the Public Health Guidance page.
Where can I find COVID-19 academic information and resources?
Visit the COVID-19 Academic Information and Resources page provides information about academic issues and resources for students and instructors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For all academic matters, students should continue to work with their academic advisors and advising offices.
Additionally, the Provost’s Office has developed an FAQ for instructors that includes information about teaching while masked, classroom protocols, and other resources.
What is a close contact?
Close contacts are identified as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case without masks.
What is the current risk of exposure in classrooms?
Classroom exposure to a positive COVID case falls under the low-risk / no-risk exposure category in a highly vaccinated, appropriately ventilated and mask-compliant classroom. As such, classroom exposure is not considered to be a medium or high risk unless there is evidence of interactions that foster transmission, such as eating, drinking or lack of masking. Our contact tracing efforts have consistently shown that the highest risk transmissions occur in large, unmasked gatherings where food and drink are shared in close proximity.
What does the University do when a student tests positive?
A contact tracer will follow-up with any student who tests positive to ensure the person isolates and gets any needed healthcare, receives public health guidance, and to identify and notify, confidentially, any close contacts.
What does the University do when faculty or staff test positive?
Faculty and staff who test positive will be notified by Occupational Medicine and instructed to isolate, will be offered any needed healthcare, and will receive public health guidance. Contact tracers will be in touch to do a case interview and help notify, confidentially, any close contacts.
What is contact tracing? How is it conducted?
Contact tracing is the process by which we determine the risk to other members of the community from a positive case. Trained members of the tracing team will contact the positive case and ask about activities leading up to infection in order to identify the close contacts that may have been exposed. These conversations are thorough, nuanced, and require collaboration between the individual and contact tracer. Notifications are sent to those who have had confirmed exposures of within 6 ft, for 15 minutes or more, without masks. The notification of contacts is performed without identifying the source, but anyone who has had an exposure will be encouraged to monitor symptoms and get tested.
Under what circumstances will an instructor be notified if a student in their course tests positive?
A student may contact the instructor directly to make them aware of their absence. In this scenario, no further action is necessary by the instructor unless they hear from our contact tracing team. Instructors will only be notified directly if contact tracing reveals evidence of behaviors suggesting medium or high risk exposure.
What should an instructor do if they learn that a student in their course tests positive? May an instructor shift a course to remote delivery?
No action is required of instructors if they learn of a positive student in their course. If many students are absent, and in accordance with their School's guidance, instructors may consider temporarily going to remote delivery because of decreased attendance. Schools with undergraduate programs can provide guidance for short-term shifts to remote delivery in undergraduate courses. Instructors must consult this guidance to determine if they may offer course sessions online, and if so, how long they may do so before returning to in-person instruction. Instructors must consult their dean or department chair before offering sessions for graduate courses online.
Instructors who are concerned about a possible exposure risk but have not been contacted by our contact tracing team may identify this exposure through PennOpen Pass or schedule a COVID test through the Penn Cares testing site.
Under what circumstances will faculty or staff learn if a colleague tests positive?
If the contact tracers determine that others have a medium or high risk exposure through the interview with the positive case, those individuals will be alerted and provided public health guidance.
How are low, medium, and high risk defined? How is the level of risk determined?
Risk assessment for classroom exposures includes vaccination status, indoor versus outdoor settings, masking, physical proximity, and ventilation. In the case of clinical and lab settings, personal protective equipment (PPE) often mitigates the risk of proximity and length of exposure. In these cases, the contact tracing team will ask very detailed questions about these interactions to ensure the appropriate risk is assigned.
What should instructors do differently for different levels of risk?
The guidance associated with low-risk exposure consists of daily symptom monitoring without any need for quarantining or prescribed testing. Since daily symptom monitoring is expected of all members of the Penn community through PennOpen Pass, this is the best course of action. Anyone who learns about a colleague or student who has tested positive and has not been contacted by our contact tracing team should continue to monitor their symptoms daily. If anyone has any concerns about their exposure risk, and believes they had a medium or high risk exposure to this individual, e.g., shared a meal, they should report this through PennOpen Pass and will be connected with our contact tracing team. They can also schedule a COVID test through PennCares testing.
To aid contact tracing, should instructors assign seats and create seating charts?
In light of our current campus positivity rates, vaccination rates and mask mandate, there is currently no need for seating charts as the nature of classroom interactions is considered low risk / no risk.
What is Gateway Testing?
Gateway testing is an important public health measure to quickly assess and minimize the introduction of the virus in our community. Every member of the University who is coming to campus is required to be tested once upon arrival to campus. This test must be completed through our own Penn Cares testing system in order to be compliant with Gateway Testing requirements.
If I am fully vaccinated, do I need to participate in Gateway testing?
Yes, all faculty, staff, and postdocs on campus for the Fall 2021 semester are required to participate in Gateway Testing, regardless of vaccination status.
What happens if I test positive during my Gateway or Screening tests?
If you test positive during Gateway of Screening Testing, you will be required to isolate for 10 days and cooperate with our contact tracing efforts, even if fully vaccinated.
What is screening testing?
Screening is intended to identify COVID-19 positivity even if there are no symptoms or known exposure. Screening testing is a critical part of our overall public health strategy to monitor the positivity rates of COVID-19 in our University community. At Penn, we will administer the saliva based PCR test.
What are the guidelines for scheduling a screening test?
Visit the Testing Program page for the latest screening testing requirements.
What is saliva-based screening?
Saliva-based testing allows the University to dramatically increase our screening testing capacity. Through our partnership with Penn Medicine, we can offer as many as 40,000 screening tests per week. This FDA-approved, saliva-based assay protocol is effective.
What method is used for SARS-CoV-2 testing in the Penn Cares program?
For SARS-CoV-2 testing, the Penn Cares program uses a saliva-based assay manufactured by Fluidigm (Advanta Dx SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR Assay). This test is specific for SARS-CoV-2 and does not detect other common respiratory pathogens.
Does the test method used in the Penn Cares program have an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)?
Yes, the Fluidigm Advanta Dx SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR Assay has an EUA from the FDA
Why are we testing saliva for SARS-CoV-2 and how does it compare to nasal swab?
Saliva is an ideal sample for SARS-CoV-2 testing for many reasons. For one thing, it is easy, safe, and non-invasive to collect. It also compares favorably to nasal swabs in terms of detection rate. The University’s new Saliva COVID-19 Testing Laboratory performed verification studies with more than 1,700 paired nasal swab and saliva samples collected from the University population in the fall of 2020. The saliva and nasal swab results were equivalent in over 99% of cases.
What does a “Not Detected” result mean?
A “Not Detected” result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the evaluated saliva sample. However, it is possible for this test to give a negative result that is incorrect (false negative) in some people infected with SARS-CoV-2. Some possible reasons for such a false negative result include:
- The level of virus may be too low to detect, which may happen during early or late infection.
- A variant virus with mutations in one or more gene targets may affect detection.
- Biologic variation of infection in different individuals
- The specimen may be suboptimal which could impact detection (see inconclusive results below)
Based on currently available data for the asymptomatic University community population, a negative result predicts a greater than 99% likelihood that the participant was not infected with SARS-CoV-2 at the time of sample collection. There is almost a 0% probability of having COVID-19 with consecutive negative results. The Penn Cares program helps minimizes the impact of false negative results by using recurring scheduled testing, which is why the University requires participants to comply with screening requirements.
What does a “Positive” result mean?
With a positive test result, it is very likely that the tested individual is infected with SARS-CoV-2 and may have COVID-19, whether or not they show any symptoms. The University has procedures in place when a student tests positive or a faculty or staff member tests positive. A smaller possibility exists that this test can give a positive result that is wrong (a false positive result) particularly when used in a population without many cases of COVID-19 infection.
How are false positive results managed?
The testing program is by design a mass screening program to protect the University community by keeping the infection rate low when combined with masking, physical distancing, and hand washing. The mass screening of an asymptomatic population means rare false positive results for an individual may occur but are balanced by the need to detect true positives to keep the infection numbers down for the good of the overall community. A great deal of effort goes into handling the samples with care and attention to detail through all stages of collection, transport, and testing to minimize false positives. Since a false positive cannot be distinguished from a true positive, all positives are treated the same. Except under certain rare circumstances, repeat or confirmatory testing is not indicated.
What does an “Inconclusive” result mean?
An inconclusive result is one that was neither clearly positive or negative or for which testing was not successful despite repeat attempts. This could be due to the consistency of the saliva or the presence of a substance that inhibits the test (such as food or other materials in the saliva). When providing the next sample after an inconclusive result be sure to follow stated guidelines to not eat, drink, chew gum or put anything in your mouth for 30 minutes before testing. In addition, the ideal saliva sample is collected by drooling rather than spitting into the tube. Excessive bubbles, mucus, and phlegm can affect the ability to perform testing.
What is diagnostic testing?
Diagnostic testing is intended to identify COVID-19 when there is a reason to suspect that an individual may be infected, such as having symptoms or suspected recent exposure, or to determine resolution of infection. PennOpen Pass will continue to help those who need testing based on symptoms or a notification of exposure to COVID-19. The University administers the nasal PCR test.
Does the testing method used for Penn Cares detect currently known circulating variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?
Yes, the testing method used for Penn Cares saliva-based testing is predicted to detect the B.1.1.7 (UK), B.1.351 (South African), and P.1 (Brazil) variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, the assay does not differentiate between these variants. If other notable variants are identified in the future, their impact on the testing method will also be assessed.
When can I cancel or reschedule a test?
Make every effort to reschedule or cancel your test appointment 24 hours prior to the testing time. If it is less than 24 hours, please make a new test appointment so that you are compliant with your particular testing protocol.
How safe are the testing sites?
One of the criteria used for selecting the testing sites was how well the space could support public health recommendations. Information continues to evolve on guidelines for indoor spaces, but all testing sites comply with the following guidelines:
- at least six feet of distance between participants
- one-way circulation through the sites
- reduced occupancies
- mask wearing
Ventilation systems of all the sites were evaluated by a third-party mechanical contractor in January 2021. The results were reviewed by Penn’s Environmental Health and Radiation Safety. All sites have been optimized for increased ventilation following guidelines, as of January 2021, provided by the City of Philadelphia for ventilation of indoor environments.
What happens to close contacts?
Close contacts who are identified to be at-risk of exposure to a confirmed case are notified to quarantine and offered post-exposure testing. It's important to follow public health guidance on testing, because testing too soon post-exposure may result in inaccurate test results.
I just found out I may have been exposed to a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case. What do I do now?
Don’t panic. 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 learned of a potential exposure and have not been contacted by a contact tracer, please use PennOpen Pass to report your exposure.
- If you have been notified by a contact tracer, it is important to follow all the instructions provided. Pay close attention to your testing, quarantine, or isolation dates.
It's important that you do not get tested right away. It may take time for the virus to take form in the body and show up on a test. Testing too early may lead to an inaccurate test result.
My peer 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, 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.
How long do I need to quarantine if I have exposure?
Along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Philadelphia Department of Public Health public health guidance, and based on our experience, the quarantine length is a minimum of 10 days.
We require continued screening testing for University members who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and meet the testing criteria. While vaccines protect individuals from developing serious illness, it remains unknown whether vaccination will prevent them from transmitting the virus should they be exposed. Please continue to use PennOpen Pass, which remains an important tool in protecting the entire community.
The quarantine guidance for vaccinated individuals is as follows:
People who are vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to quarantine after being exposed to a confirmed, non-household case of COVID-19 if they meet all of the following criteria:
- They are fully vaccinated (i.e., ≥2 weeks following receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or ≥2 weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine),
- They are within 3 months following receipt of the last dose in the series, and
- They do not present with symptoms of COVID-19 and have a green PennOpen Pass
People who are fully vaccinated and who experience a household exposure to COVID-19, which is known to be the highest level of exposure risk, should:
- Quarantine for 7 days from time of positive test of their household contact,
- Undergo testing on or around Day 7; if negative, they may return to campus, and
- Continue to utilize PennOpen Pass after the quarantine period to report symptoms or future exposures.
People will be required to provide vaccination information.
Can I see and be around anyone else living in my home during my quarantine?
A recommendation to quarantine includes the advice to stay 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 gatherings, and they should not attend gatherings. They should also wear a mask or face covering anytime you are not alone.
I have previously tested positive; do I still need to be tested and/or quarantine/isolate?
It depends. If you have tested positive within 90 days, you do not need to participate in screening testing. If you tested positive, but it was more than 90 days ago, you are required to enroll in the University’s screening program and adhere to quarantine and isolation guidance provided to you based on exposures or future positive tests
What support will be available for me during my isolation at home?
Faculty and staff have access to COVID Watch, a Penn Medicine program that provides automated remote monitoring for 14 days of COVID-19 patients isolating at home. COVID Watch checks in to see how you are feeling and quickly identifies if you need medical attention and escalates care to a provider or emergency department.
What is the University’s travel quarantine policy?
Anyone coming from outside the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should be mindful of guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the City of Philadelphia. Traveling remains a risky activity for COVID-19. All travelers, even those who are vaccinated, should continue to wear a mask while traveling, distance when possible, and practice good hand hygiene.
Travel guidance is fluid and changes frequently.
What are the University’s travel guidelines and procedures?
Why won’t the University provide me travel documentation?
The Penn Cares testing program screens members of the University community who fit defined criteria and display no symptoms for the presence of COVID-19. The program is a public-health intervention, a data-driven way for the University to reduce the risk of spread among those who are regularly on campus. University testing, both screening and that provided for symptomatic/close contacts, may not meet diverse and changing travel requirements of commercial airlines and domestic or international governments. Commercial entities which offer testing are equipped and intended to help individuals meet travel-documentation requirements.