Contact tracing helps keep you, your friends and family and our communities as safe as possible by slowing the spread of COVID-19, alerting those who may have been exposed to the disease and helping them determine next steps. If Penn State or Department of Health contact tracers reach out to you, it’s important to engage with them and provide information about where you have been and with whom you have been in contact. Your protected health information will be kept confidential.
Visit the Student Affairs website for more information on student contact tracing and reporting positive third-party test results.
Penn State contact tracing overview
To support the health and well-being of the University community, Penn State has implemented a contact tracing process in coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health as part of a layered tracing and testing approach for students and employees across all campuses.
To limit community spread and transmission, the University’s contact tracing process focuses on identifying, notifying and monitoring students and employees who came in close contact with a student or employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or is presumed positive, while they were infectious.
Contact tracing is directed by the COVID-19 Operations Control Center and operated centrally by Student Affairs, with support and representation from the Commonwealth Campuses. The University and the Pennsylvania Department of Health are working in tandem to support state requirements for case investigation, which is the process of contacting those who test positive for COVID-19 and then reaching out to their close contacts.
Define your pod to help contact tracing and minimize the spread of COVID-19. A small, defined pod can help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and make the contact tracing process simpler and more effective.
Definition of a ‘close contact’
In line with CDC guidelines on close contacts, the University defines a close contact as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative time of 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period while that individual may have been infectious. The infectious period begins 48 hours before the person began experiencing symptoms (or 48 hours before the test date for asymptomatic individuals) until the time the individual was isolated.
What to expect from the contact tracing process
The following steps outline the contact tracing process and what students and employees can expect:
- Step 1: Through its COVID-19 testing and self-reported positive test results, Penn State will identify individuals who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or presumed positive.
- Step 2: Case investigators will initiate contact with positive or presumed positive students and employees, calling from the 814 area code for all campus locations except for Penn State Hershey. Please answer calls when they are received.
- Step 3: Contact tracers will communicate with employees and students identified as close contacts about health quarantine expectations and offer support.
- Step 4: Case managers will reach out daily, or on an as-needed basis, to students in isolation and quarantine to provide support and will notify faculty and instructors if a student is not permitted to attend class.
Self-reporting a suspected close contact
To limit community spread and transmission of COVID-19, any student who suspects or has confirmed that they are a close contact of an infected individual must self-quarantine, and is strongly encouraged to self-report by filling out Penn State's contact tracing referral form, or by calling Penn State Contact Tracing at 814-863-8800. Penn State Contact Tracing will review the form and contact the student.
If a student submits the form and is determined to have met the standard for a close contact, the student will be provided quarantine support and guidance and their in-person instructors will be notified in accordance with standard processes.
When and how to report positive test results
If you receive a positive result from a test administered by the University or one of its COVID-19 testing vendors, no further action is necessary and contact tracing will commence automatically.
If you receive a positive test result from a test administered by a provider outside of the University, there are steps you must take to initiate the University’s contact tracing process.
Reporting results for students
Students can notify the University of a third-party positive test result by submitting test results through myUHS.
To upload your positive COVID test result:
1. Visit myUHS and log in using your Penn State credentials.
2. Select “I would like to report to University Health Services the result of a COVID-19 test.”
3. Initiate a secure message and attach your result as an image file (.jpg, .png, .bmp, .gif, .tif).
Reporting results for employees
Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive or experiencing symptoms should stay home and contact your supervisor. Your supervisor will then contact Occupational Medicine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 814-863-8492 on your behalf. Occupational Medicine will follow-up with additional information, based on your situation. Occupational Medicine also will contact your supervisor and the University’s Absence Management unit on your behalf to inform them about when you will be out of the office and when you may be able to return. If you are working remotely, Occupational Medicine will still be able to advise you about testing. You may also wish to consult this chart if you feel ill, test positive, or think you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
To limit community spread and transmission of COVID-19, any student who suspects or has confirmed that they are a close contact of an infected individual must self-quarantine, and is strongly encouraged to self-report by filling out Penn State’s contact tracing referral form, or by calling Penn State Contact Tracing at 814-863-8800. Penn State Contact Tracing will review the information and contact the student.
Though they cannot require it, instructors should strongly encourage students to self-report, to allow the contact tracing process to begin. In addition, any faculty or staff member may refer directly to contact tracing using the link above. To encourage students to engage in responsible behavior, instructors are encouraged to treat such absences as unavoidable under Senate Policy 42-27.
If a student is determined to have met the standard for a close contact, the student will be provided quarantine support and guidance, and their in-person instructors will be notified in accordance with standard processes. Not every reported situation meets the standard for a close contact. In those cases, students will be advised to continue with normal activities following all safety protocols, and instructors will not be notified.
Due to federal laws (HIPAA), faculty should not ask the COVID-19 testing status of students, as faculty are not responsible for monitoring or enforcing testing requirements. Learn more about testing information here.
Faculty who are teaching will receive an email from email@example.com if one of their students is in quarantine or isolation, including information on when the student may return to the classroom. CDC guidelines and University testing procedures may permit students to leave isolation and quarantine earlier than expected if specific criteria are met. Faculty will be notified a second time if their student is permitted to leave quarantine or isolation earlier than previously communicated; however, there may be a slight delay in that process as contact tracers notify Student Support Services, which in turn will notify the faculty member of the change. If the student attends class in person before the end of the quarantine or isolation period that was communicated to the faculty member, it may be because the student tested out. However, if a student attends an in-person class before they complete their quarantine or isolation period without having tested out, then a referral should be made to the Office of Student Conduct.
The University’s plans include an augmented testing strategy with required testing for all students prior to their arrival, post-arrival testing within the first two weeks of the semester for all students, on-demand testing for students and on-campus employees, and daily random testing of between 1% and 2% of the University’s population of students and employees living, learning or working on campus as well as those who access campus. This includes all employees who are working on campus and students who are taking in-person classes or living within 20 miles of a campus. The University also is continuing with strategic screening to identify location-based rises in cases, data monitoring, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation, which reflect new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
Additional details are available on the Testing and Support page.