Student FAQs

COVID-19 Vaccination

  1. Am I required to have screening testing if I have been vaccinated against COVID-19?

    We are requiring 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. In the coming days and weeks, please pause, read, and respond to survey questions carefully.

  2. When will I receive my COVID-19 vaccination?

    It is too early for the University to commit to any timeline for the vaccination of its students, faculty or staff; the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, who manages vaccine allotments for Philadelphia, is currently prioritizing the vaccination of health care workers and essential workers as per CDC guidelines.

    This is a fluid situation that will likely evolve very quickly. Once more information is available, it will be communicated to the University community. The University remains steadfast in its dedication to the welfare of its community. As soon as vaccine doses are made available, we will mobilize quickly to make them available.

Public Health Measures

  1. What is the quiet period?

    The quiet period is January 6 to February 1, 2021. This is a time meant to minimize the risk of virus spread from the introduction of many new people on campus. The University asks everyone on campus - students, faculty, postdocs, and staff - to limit face-to-face gatherings. The University prohibits organized activities. Doing so in this first month helps to preserve the potential for activities to gradually become more normal over the course of the spring semester.


  1. What is gateway, or day of arrival, testing?

    As students arrive on campus for the spring semester, whether living on or off capmpus, students must receive COVID-19 gateway/day-of-arrival testing. Gateway testing sets a baseline positivity rate for the student community. Gateway testing must be completed by January 18, 2021.

  2. 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.

  3. What is saliva-based screening?

    Saliva-based testing allows the University to dramatically increase our screening testing capacity for the Spring semester. Through our partnership with Penn Medicine, we can offer as many as 40,000 screening tests per week beginning in January. This FDA-approved, saliva-based assay protocol is just as effective as the protocols we’ve had in place this Fall. 

  4. 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. 

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

Scheduling Testing

  1. What are the guidelines for scheduling a screening test?

    Screening testing is by appointment only; the nature of this test does not allow us to accommodate walk-ins. Students, faculty, postdocs and staff who meet the screening testing criteria are able to confirm a day, time, and testing site by visiting our new web-based scheduling application, where you are also asked to give your consent for the new saliva-based test.  Appointments are booked at 15-minute intervals. Appointments must be made, at a minimum, by 9pm the day before a test; this allows for the pre-testing processes to be accomplished overnight so your check-in and registration are seamless.

  2. When should students schedule their testing?

    Students who live on campus are required to be tested on their move-in day – this is called their gateway /day-of-arrival test. Upon arrival, on-campus students are directed to the High Rise Field Tent or Annenberg Center for a walk-in test – no appointment is needed. Those moving in on
    Sunday or after hours are tested the next morning. Upon completion of the gateway/day-of-arrival test, students should schedule their second test (and first screening test), which is to be a minimum of three days, but no more than seven days, after their gateway test.
    Students who live off campus are instructed to test when they move in.  This is called their gateway/day-of-arrival test. Those moving in on Sunday or after hours are tested the next morning. Upon arrival, on-campus students are directed to the High Rise Field Tent or Annenberg Center for a walk-in test – no appointment is needed. Upon completion of the gateway/day-of-arrival test, students should schedule their second test (and first screening test), which is to be a minimum of three days, but no more than seven days, after their gateway test. Off-campus students are required to complete their gateway/day-of-arrival test by January 18, 2021. If they do not complete their first test by this date, they will be deemed as noncompliant and follow the associated Red Pass non-compliant process.
    Undergraduates living on or off campus in Philadelphia are required to undergo twice-weekly screening tests throughout the semester, on the following pre-assigned day pairs:

    • Undergraduate student year 1: Monday and Thursday
    • Undergraduate student year 2: Monday and Thursday
    • Undergraduate student year 3: Tuesday and Friday
    • Undergraduate student year 4: Wednesday and Saturday
    • NCAA student athlete: Twice per week, may pick any two-day pair

    Pre-assigned testing days for undergraduates ensure that the high volume of tests can be analyzed by the labs in a timely way. The required interval between paired days maintains the sensitivity of the testing protocol.
    Graduate students who come to campus each week are required to receive screening tests once per week. Graduate students who live in College Houses or elsewhere on campus are required to undergo twice-weekly screening tests, on the two-day pairs of their choosing.

  3. 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.

Contact Tracing

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    Students should reach out to Student Health Services (SHS) if they develop symptoms or if symptoms worsen. If Campus Health and SHS are aware of your exposure, they will reach out frequently throughout your quarantine to check in on your health and offer support. 

  3. 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.

Life During Quarantine

  1. 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.

  2. How are you going to monitor off campus students to ensure they stick to quarantines?

    All students in quarantine or isolation will have regular check-ins from the University. 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.

  3. 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 should make sure you upload a copy of your positive lab result to your Student Health Portal for review. 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

  4. 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.