Trace and Isolate FAQs
After testing positive, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation are some of the many ways the University is helping to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread within the Penn community. We acknowledge that this remains an evolving pandemic, and guidance regarding testing, isolation and quarantine may change as the situation evolves. Please check within this FAQ section for the most up-to-date information.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Testing Positive and Contact Tracing FAQs
What happens when a student tests positive?
First and foremost, noone is ever in trouble or penalized for being sick or exposed to a communicable illness. Your privacy and ability to maintain an active role in the public health process is of utmost importance.
A contact tracer will follow-up with anyone who tests positive to ensure the person isolates and gets the needed healthcare. The contact tracer will also ask about activities leading up to infection and the contacts they may have had. These conversations are thorough, nuanced, and require collaboration between the individual and contact tracer.
The notification of contacts is performed without identifying the source and notifies others who have had high-risk exposure.
One goal of contact tracing is to trace and monitor contacts of infected people. Contact tracers notify individuals of their exposure through their student medical record.
The second goal is to support the quarantine of contacts to prevent additional transmission.
What is a close contact?
With COVID-19, close contacts are identified as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case. That last definition could identify many contacts.
In the case of clinical and lab settings, 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. These risk levels vary as public health guidance changes.
Working collaboratively with the contact tracer is critical.
What happens to the close contact?
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.
For a close contact of a confirmed case, even a negative test does NOT eliminate the need for the full 14-day quarantine in most situations. The incubation period for COVID-19 is 2-14 days.
Do you notify my school about my need to quarantine or isolate?
You should feel empowered to participate in these important public health activities, and you are encouraged to notify the School (or program) yourself of your need to be out of class, clinicals or work. If that is not an option, or if you feel uncomfortable doing so, the contact tracers will notify the appropriate people on your behalf. School advisors and instructors are also aware of this policy and will not require documentation should someone indicate they are unable to attend class, clinicals or work due to illness or isolation.
There are additional protocols in place for those with in-person clinical requirements, and the contact tracers will coordinate patient outreach with the school if the the individual has had recent patient interactions.
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 innacurate 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.
Faculty, staff and postdocs should follow-up with their primary care physician if they have symptoms or symptoms worsen.
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.
Current Quarantine and Isolation Guidance
Non-Healthcare Workers and/or People Living in Congregate Settings
Discontinuation of isolation for confirmed cases of COVID-19:
- Symptomatic cases can be removed from isolation after 10 days and:
- at least 24 hours without fever and
- improved smyptoms
- Asymptomatic cases can be removed from isolation 10 days after positive test
Discontinuation of quarantine for contacts of COVID-19 cases:
- 14 days after last exposure (for household members and roomates, the 14 day quarantine starts from the date the roomate is considered recovered, which is 10 days from illness onset).
Quarantine and Isolation FAQs
What is quarantine or isolation?
Quarantine and isolation are public health measures used to reduce or prevent the spread of illness. Quarantine means separating a healthy person or group of healthy people away from others due to exposure to a contagious disease. Isolation refers to separating a sick person with a contagious disease away from others. In both instances, University staff will remain in regular communication with individuals to support their wellbeing and offer additional virtual resources as appropriate.
What does quarantine look like?
A recommendation to quarantine includes the advice to stay at 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.
In quarantine, food and groceries should be ordered online and delivered as much as possible, or have meals and groceries dropped off by friends. Wear a mask or face covering anytime you are not alone.
Students who are in quarantine will receive continued care and support from Student Health and CAPS clinicians as needed or requested. University faculty, postdocs and staff are asked to follow proper public health guidance and to follow-up with their primary care physician if they are feeling unwell or their symptoms worsen.
Other University services will be made available to individuals as needed.
What does isolation look like?
Students, faculty and staff living on campus will be moved into an isolation facility where they will have their own bathroom and kitchen. Depending on capacity, students living off-campus may also be moved into the isolation facility.
For all Penn community members off-campus, isolation means staying at home, alone in your bedroom, except to use the bathroom. All people in isolation should order food in or ask a friend/family member/roommate to drop off groceries or a meal. Masks or facial coverings must be worn anytime you are outside of the bedroom. Do not travel, go to class, work, or participate in any social activities. Do not host friends or gatherings. Do not attend gatherings.
Students who are in isolation will receive continued care and support from Student Health and CAPS clinicians as needed or requested. University faculty, postdocs and staff are asked to follow proper public health guidance and to follow-up with their primary care physician if they are feeling unwell or their symptoms worsen.
Other University services will be made available to individuals as needed.
What happens if a student or faculty member develops COVID-19 and are attending an in-person class?
Case investigations are incredibly detailed and nuanced in order to get the most accurate information and to properly assess risk.
In this scenario, only that individual and their close contacts would be notified to quarantine or isolate. Close contacts are identified as housemates, roommates, intimate partners, and those who spent 15+ minutes within 6 feet of a confirmed case. Based on the public health rules put forth for any in-person instruction, namely requiring face coverings and respecting distancing of more than 6 feet, no one in attendance during class would be deemed a close contact.
Additionally, surface transmission is mitigated by our enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols.
If someone tests positive in my home, does everyone in my home need to be quarantined?
Yes. And that 14 day quarantine countdown clock cannot start until the confirmed case completes isolation. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) visual representation of quarantine guidelines.
It is always vital to remember that an individual’s behaviors directly impact those around them. We are all in this together.
Why does my friend/roommate/housemate have a different quarantine/isolation date than mine?
The CDC recommendations for quarantine and isolation differ depending on the nuances of each case. It is not unusual for different contacts of one positive case to have different quarantine and isolation dates.
Who can I talk to with questions about my quarantine/isolation dates?
Please refer to PennOpen Pass for information about your specific quarantine/isolation dates.
Life During Quarantine FAQs
During my quarantine, can I see and be around anyone else living in my home?
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.
How can students and faculty attend classes during quarantine?
Since the majority of instruction is currently being conducted virtually, you can attend your classes online while in quarantine, if applicable.
How are you going to monitor off campus students to ensure they stick to the 14-day quarantine?
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. Students in quarantine or isolation will have regular check-ins from the University.
I have a positive antibody test, do I still need to be tested and/or quarantine/isolate?
Yes. While antibody tests may be helpful in the future, they are not yet reliable. There are currently no FDA approved antibody tests, and the accuracy of these tests is unknown.
Research on COVID 19 is still preliminary, so it is still unclear how much protection the presence of antibodies and known previous infection offers. You must comply with any public health instructions you receive regardless of antibody test results.
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.
Faculty, postdocs and staff should follow proper public health guidance during quarantine and should follow-up with their primary care physician if they feel unwell or if their symptoms worsen.