Student Testing Resources: Spring Semester
The Penn Cares public-health response to COVID-19 for the Spring 2021 semester includes a comprehensive testing strategy. Developed in partnership with Penn Medicine, it uses three distinct channels. Gateway testing helps to minimize the likelihood that persons arriving on campus can transmit infection, and provides a statistical baseline for tracking positivity rates. The official Penn screening test program uses an FDA-approved protocol and state-certified labs on campus to analyze saliva samples collected noninvasively to monitor transmission rates in the Penn population. Symptomatic individuals, those testing positive in screening, and close contacts of positive cases are tested using nasal swabs. These results are used to isolate confirmed cases and perform contact tracing.
Spring semester testing ends on May 16, 2021. Summer testing begins on May 17, 2021.
Who Must Be Tested
Twice per week:
- Undergraduate students living on or off campus will be tested on preassigned day pairs.
- Graduate students who live on campus will be tested on selected day pairs.
Once per week:
- Graduate students who come to campus each week.
Eligibility and Required Testing
Testing before students arrive on campus for the spring semester was not a requirement; however, as students arrived on campus for the spring semester, they received COVID-19 gateway testing (also known as day-of-arrival testing) to establish baseline prevalence in the student community.
Returning students moved into their on-campus residences, but went directly to one of two testing sites after depositing their belongings. The sites accepting walk-ins for this purpose were the tents at High Rise Field and Ace Adams Field. Exceptions were as follows:
- Those moving in on Sunday or after hours were tested the next day when testing was available.
- Students living on campus through the holiday season continued their screening testing per their protocol and did not participate in gateway testing.
Students living on or off campus quarantined in their place of residence until they were cleared with a negative gateway test result. Students living on or off campus completed their gateway test no later than January 18, 2021.
Quarantine after Travel
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.
Students contributed to a safe University community and Philadelphia neighborhood at the start of the spring semester. A University-wide quiet period was observed from January 6 to February 1, 2021. The University did not plan or conduct group activities.
Ongoing screening is being conducted throughout the semester. Students must schedule their first screening test a minimum of three days, but no more than seven days, after their gateway test.
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.
Clinical students in dental medicine, medicine, nursing, and veterinary medicine whose clinical rotations take them away from campus are exempt from the screening testing requirement.
Those who have had a positive COVID-19 test in the past 90 days are exempt from testing and should not schedule a screening test. Individuals should use PennOpen Pass every day in case new symptoms or exposures arise during the 90-day period.
Participants who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and meet the testing criteria are required to continue screening testing. While vaccines protect individuals from developing serious illness, it remains unknown whether vaccination will prevent them from transmitting the virus should they be exposed. Continued use of PennOpen Pass, which remains an important tool in protecting the entire community, is also required. In the coming days and weeks, participants should pause, read, and respond to survey questions carefully.
Symptomatic and Close Contact
Before coming to campus, students, faculty, and staff are required to perform daily symptom checks on PennOpen Pass. Anyone who receives a Red Pass will be instructed regarding testing, self-isolation, and other steps to follow. This will replace once- or twice-weekly testing until they return to a Green Pass state. Everyone must show their Green Pass to enter University buildings or board Penn Transit.
Compliance with Required Screening Tests
Students who miss one week of screening testing will receive a Red Pass for non-compliance. Individuals who are in a Red Pass state will not be admitted to campus buildings or Penn Transit since their COVID-19 status is unknown; they will be recommended for quarantine. Individuals who receive a Red Pass for non-compliance are instructed to schedule their screening test. Their Red Pass for non-compliance is cleared within 24 hours from the day on which the test was scheduled.
The test is free.
Screening Testing Details
Testing is by appointment only. Please make your appointments and indicate your consent to testing (view copy of the consent form) by visiting the new web-based scheduling application. If you need assistance, please consult this tip sheet (PDF).
Appointments are booked at 15-minute intervals on a first-come, first-served basis. Scheduling in advance improves your chance of receiving your desired testing date/time/location, since walk-ins will not be accepted. You must make or cancel any appointment at least 24 hours before the desired testing time. This allows for processes to run overnight and onsite registration to run efficiently for you and the staff when you arrive at the testing site.
Before Getting a Screening Test
Participants should refrain from eating, drinking, tooth brushing, mouth washing, gum chewing, vaping, and tobacco use for at least 30 minutes before submitting their saliva sample at the test location. This prevents contamination of their saliva sample.
Participants should plan to be “hands-free” during the testing process. Storage of personal possessions will not be available. At testing sites, participants will enter through one location and exit at another location.
Participants should make sure to bring their current PennCard. They should perform their daily symptom check on PennOpen Pass before leaving their residence, and only leave it if they have a Green Pass. They will need to show their Green Pass at the testing site.
While lining up outside the testing location, everyone should wear a face covering and practice physical distancing.
The Screening Testing Process
Participants will be asked to provide a saliva sample. The sample collection only takes a few minutes, usually less than 30 minutes.
Step-by-step testing process
- Report whether you have had anything to eat, drink, smoke, or chew in the last 30 minutes.
- Present your Green PennOpen Pass.
- Swipe your PennCard so staff can locate your record.
- Provide your name and date of birth to confirm your identity.
- Verify that your name is correct on the test tube label.
- Move to a saliva station where you will take the lid off your test tube and dribble saliva into the tube until you have filled the required amount.
- Once complete, replace the lid and take the tube to the collection station.
- At collection, hold up your test tube so staff can confirm that there is enough saliva in the tube.
- Staff will ask that you return to a test station if enough saliva is not in the tube.
- Hand your tube to checkout staff and sanitize your hands.
- Schedule your next test.
Getting Test Results
Test results are expected well within 48 hours.
- Go to the COVID Results.
- Click on the login icon in the upper right-hand corner.
- Enter PennKey and Password.
If a test result is positive, the participant will get a Red Pass in PennOpen Pass with instructions for next steps. Campus Health will reach out to those who receive a positive result. Learn about testing positive for COVID-19.
A test result may show inconclusive due to a contaminated or insufficient saliva sample or other processing error. Participants should proceed with taking their next scheduled test. Participants will not receive a Red Pass because their test result shows inconclusive.
Questions about Testing and Results
Wellness at Penn is available to answer questions about on-campus testing and results. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
On-Campus Testing Data
Data about the on-campus testing program, including the number of daily tests performed and positivity rates, are available online.
About the University of Pennsylvania Saliva Test
With the large number of students present on campus in the spring, the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with Penn Medicine, has developed a saliva-based PCR test program to screen for COVID-19 in the University community. The program provides the following:
- Faster results with an onsite laboratory equipped with robotics
- Capacity for high volume, currently designed for 40,000 tests per week
- Improved efficiency throughout the experience with automated processes
- Reduced discomfort with self-collected saliva samples instead of nasal swabs
- Improved supply chain of testing materials over the swabs and reagents used in other processes
Screening tests are a public health tool used to reduce the spread of the virus. The saliva based screening is able to identify infection more quickly and allows contact tracing and isolation to be initiated before the virus spreads further. Regular saliva screening, as required by the University, is as sensitive as nasal PCR tests. Screening testing is not a tool used for personal and/or travel testing-related documentation.
Symptomatic and Close-Contact Testing
About the Nasal PCR Test
The anterior nares (lower nostril, less-invasive) nasal PCR test is used as a diagnostic tool at the University. Individuals report symptoms and exposure through PennOpen Pass. As they answer the series of Red Pass questions, individuals receive personalized clinical guidance, perhaps determining the need to test quickly. Symptomatic and close contacts testing is administered at Irvine Auditorium, a physically separated location from those used for screening.
Both testing programs are intended to keep the University community healthy; neither testing program is available for personal use and/or testing related to travel. The University cannot accommodate requests for documentation for travel due to the specificity required by each country and airline.
Post-Exposure (Close-Contact) Quarantine
Effective February 16, 2021, in connection with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Philadelphia Department of Public Health public health guidance, and based on our spring semester experience, we are happy to announce a reduction in quarantine length from a minimum of 14 days to a minimum of 10 days. We are hopeful this change helps reduce some of the anxiety and feelings of isolation among some of our Penn community members, while simultaneously promoting adherence to the quarantine guidance.
People who are vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to quarantine after being exposed to a confirmed 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 will be required to provide vaccination information.