Students, faculty and staff encouraged to test before returning to on-campus classes, work
Penn State will start the spring semester as planned, with in-person classes and activities held as scheduled with continued health and safety protocols in place. The University will continue to closely monitor the conditions around University Park and its Commonwealth Campuses and will alter its plans if necessary. Additional and/or enhanced protocols may be added in the coming weeks to reflect the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus omicron variant.
As previously announced, University leadership has been monitoring local hospital capacity, the spread of the coronavirus omicron variant, and local, state, and national pandemic conditions while considering whether the University would begin the semester in person or start remotely.
Based on advice from Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center (COCC) Penn State leadership has determined that, at this time, conditions do not warrant a move to remote learning and other activities to start the semester.
“Our students, faculty, and staff have a very high vaccination rate, we are testing weekly those who are not vaccinated and we are continuing to require face masks to be worn indoors,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “With these measures in place, together with hospitalization data and what we are learning about omicron, we believe we can safely, but carefully, return to on-campus classes and activities as planned.”
“I urge all of our students to order a free, mail-in Vault Health test kit to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus so that they can isolate at home if they are COVID-19 positive. Any student or employee can currently order up to 12 Vault Health kits for at-home use,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of the COCC. I want to emphasize that students at all campus locations can take action now to order a test and complete it next week to know their health status before returning to campus.”
“We will prioritize student testing during move-in weekend at University Park,” Wolgast said. “At University Park, the White Building drop-in testing site will be open on move-in weekend, Jan. 7-9, and students, both residential and non-residential, who did not take a COVID-19 test prior to arriving to campus are, and will be, strongly encouraged to take a rapid test at the White Building on arrival.”
Students who test positive using University testing resources will be contacted by contact tracing. Students who test positive using outside test resources should refer themselves to contact tracing through myUHS or by calling 814-863-8800.
Penn State students who have not shared with the University proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will continue to have to test weekly for COVID-19 throughout the spring 2022 semester.
Under the federal contractor vaccine mandate, all employees at all Penn State campuses are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved medical/disability- or religious-related accommodation. This mandate requirement is currently under an injunction and will not be implemented by Penn State on Jan. 4. However, the injunction could be lifted in the near future. In the meantime, Penn State will continue with the current testing protocols already in place.
Students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should seek out symptomatic testing through a University or local health care provider and should isolate and be in contact with University contact tracing who will advise on isolation and quarantine requirements. Employees exhibiting symptoms are expected not to come to work and should notify their supervisor immediately. Although more protected from serious illness, if at any time vaccinated individuals experience COVID-19 symptoms, they should still seek testing and contact Occupational Medicine who will advise on isolation and quarantine requirements.
Wolgast said the University has ample quarantine and isolation space for on-campus students and is in the process of adjusting its quarantine and isolation processes to align with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our community should be aware of these new CDC guidelines,” Wolgast said, “and I also want to stress that it is very important to continue practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a well-fitting mask, and, most importantly, to get vaccinated, including getting your booster shot.”
With the rise of the omicron variant, the University is strongly encouraging all students, faculty, and staff to get COVID-19 booster shots as soon as possible, which, studies show, protect against severe illness from the omicron variant.
While conditions vary by region and community, at this time, Penn State’s action is consistent with that of about half its Big Ten peers. The latest information on the University’s response to the pandemic can be found on the Coronavirus Information website.