Frequently Asked Questions

Surveillance testing for students

If a student or employee with COVID-19 symptoms is selected for surveillance testing, do they still need to complete the surveillance testing process?

Symptomatic individuals selected for surveillance testing should indicate their symptoms via the questionnaire on the COVID-19 surveillance registration website. Students and employees who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 will be excluded from random asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Due to the fact that surveillance test samples are analyzed in pools, or groups, for efficiency, and in the interest of personal and community health, symptomatic students should instead stay home and schedule an appointment with University Health Services or their campus health center for individual evaluation and testing. Employees with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home, call their primary care provider, and contact Penn State Occupational Medicine at 814-863-8492 or psuoccmed@psu.edu.

As part of Penn State’s multi-layered COVID-19 testing program, the University is conducting randomized daily testing of a least 1% of the campus population to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Those excluded from testing due to COVID-19 symptoms may be added back into the testing pool and selected again at a later date.

Those with questions about the surveillance testing process can email HealthyState@psu.edu for assistance. For answers to frequently asked questions about the University’s surveillance testing program, visit “Surveillance testing for students” or “Surveillance testing for employees” on virusinfo.psu.edu.

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Penn State is conducting a randomized COVID-19 surveillance testing program to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 across all campuses. The University will perform daily testing of at least 1% of the student, faculty and staff population across Penn State’s campuses. Except for Penn College, all Penn State campuses will be included, including Dickinson Law and College of Nursing and College of Medicine students at Hershey. 

Students and employees who are learning, working or living on campus will be selected randomly and contacted by email and text message to answer a few screening questions and to schedule an appointment at University Park or to participate in their campus location’s specific surveillance process. If selected, students and employees are required to complete the free testing and should plan to do so within 48-72 hours after being contacted. 

For additional information about surveillance testing, read this story in Penn State News. Three new COVID-19 surveillance testing sites will be open for Penn State employees and students on the University Park campus starting Oct. 7. These indoor locations replace previous University Park campus testing locations and expand services to include employee-only hours.

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At University Park, University Health Services provides appointment-based, “on-demand” testing for students who have COVID-19-related symptoms. If a student is symptomatic, they should seek testing at University Health Services by scheduling an appointment online through myUHS or by calling UHS at 814-863-0774. 

For University Park students who are asymptomatic but self-identify as having COVID-19 exposure or want to be tested for other reasons, a voluntary walk-up testing site is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily on the main concourse of Pegula Ice Arena. By allowing students to be tested who feel that they may have been exposed rather than solely those who have been identified by the contact tracing process, these expanded testing efforts will supplement and hasten the University’s existing contact tracing efforts and the deployment of quarantine and isolation.

Both students and employees may be selected by the University for random screening as part of the University’s ongoing surveillance testing program. Students and employees will be provided with instructions via email about where to go for this testing when they are selected.

More information on COVID-19 testing options at University Park is available from Penn State Student Affairs.

For Commonwealth Campus students and employees, random screening is being conducted by Vault Health. Individuals selected for random screening will receive an email that includes specific directions on next steps. It is important that selected individuals register for their test within 48 hours of receiving the email and then complete their test within 48 hours of having the test kit in hand. On-demand testing for Commonwealth Campus students is being conducted by Quest. Symptomatic students should contact their campus health center or testing contact for directions on how to obtain a test kit.

Penn State Commonwealth Campuses also are offering voluntary asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for on-campus employees during the month of October through Vault Health. More information about the testing process for Commonwealth Campus employees is available in this Penn State News article

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Due to the random and risk-stratified approach to the testing, students cannot volunteer to participate in the surveillance/random testing program. However, students have other options for testing. 

University Park: If a student is symptomatic, they should seek testing at University Health Services by scheduling an appointment online through myUHS or by calling UHS at 814-863-0774. At University Park, if a student is asymptomatic (does not have symptoms), but wants testing because of known exposure or other reasons, they may seek testing at Penn State’s walk-up site, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily on the main concourse of Pegula Ice Arena.

Commonwealth Campuses: If a student has COVID-19 symptoms or is concerned about possible virus exposure, they should contact their on-campus health center or the 24/7 nurse advice line at 814-863-4463. There is currently no walk-up testing at any of the Commonwealth Campuses on a regular basis, but the University continues to monitor campus and community conditions and may add this testing process at a future date.

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Random and risk-stratified samples of students will be selected and tested for COVID-19 as part of our multi-pronged testing program. This will allow the University to identify asymptomatic cases (individuals who don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, but may have the virus), which require isolation. Testing also allows us to assess the levels of any potential spread of the virus in our student population. The test looks for the presence of the coronavirus and helps determine who can spread it. By testing as many people as possible, we hope to minimize the risk of infection on our Penn State campuses and in our communities.

Beginning Aug. 24, surveillance testing of approximately 1% of our campus population has been and will be conducted daily. If a student is selected for surveillance testing, they will be notified via email. Participation in the surveillance testing program is required (except for pre-determined exceptions). There is no cost to the student for this program.

For answers to additional student questions about the University’s random surveillance testing program, visit “Surveillance testing for students.”

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Students are selected to participate in surveillance testing if they live in their campus community, regardless of their learning status. For University Park, students are required to participate if they are currently residing within Centre County. For World Campus students living in Centre County, students are required to participate in surveillance testing.

For Commonwealth Campuses, students are required to participate if they have an on-campus component to their learning schedule or live within close proximity to campus. For World Campus students, students are required to participate in surveillance testing if they have a residential campus course that has an in-person component.

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University Park: If a student is selected, they will be notified via email. The registration link will expire the following day. Upon registering, individuals will have the option to schedule their test within the next two days. Individuals will receive reminders via email and text message.

Commonwealth Campuses: If a student is selected, they will be notified via email. The registration link will expire the after 48 hours. Upon registering, individuals will have the option to schedule their test within the next two days. Individuals will receive reminders via email and text message.

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Testing locations and strategies vary by campus.  

At University Park, when you register for the surveillance test, you will be provided with a list of locations where you can be tested. Testing sites follow all guidelines with respect to social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and sanitation of spaces.  

At Commonwealth Campuses, specific instructions for how to proceed with testing will be included in your surveillance invitation email.

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At University Park, the test will be performed using an anterior nasal swab. This is NOT the deep invasive nasal swab. This test requires the insertion of a swab approximately one inch into each nostril. After you check in for your appointment, a staff member will guide you through the self-collection process.

At Commonwealth Campuses, a saliva-based test is used. Depending on the campus, you will either pick up a test kit or you will request that a kit be mailed to your home. (Detailed instructions will be included in your email invitation.) After you have the kit, you will complete the testing process using a Vault telehealth visit.

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At University Park, wait time is estimated to be less than 15 minutes throughout the day. Please remember to wear a mask and socially distance while waiting in line.

For the Commonwealth Campuses that are distributing tests, the wait time is minor — students simply schedule a time to pick up their test and take it home with them.

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Please bring your Penn State ID card, along with your mask.

For Commonwealth Campuses that are distributing Vault test kits, students should also bring their smartphone or other device to show their scheduled appointment time to the health care provider.

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To reschedule your appointment, log back into the system through your registration email and reschedule. You can only reschedule during your eligibility window. 

For Commonwealth Campuses, students are able to reschedule their testing window one time, within 48 hours of receiving the email indicating they’ve been selected for surveillance testing.

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There is no cost to the student. The test is completely free and will not be charged to your insurance. 

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University Park: As part of this program, nasal swab samples are analyzed in pools, or groups. This means that your sample will be combined with samples of other students. The combined samples, or pool of samples, are tested. Negative results from this test will not be reported to you individually. If your sample is part of a pool that returns in an indeterminate result, all people in the pool will be contacted and asked to complete an individual level follow-up test and to isolate as a precautionary measure. If further action is required of you, you will be contacted via telephone or email within 24-48 hours of your test.


Commonwealth Campuses: Test results will be emailed to you within approximately 48 hours AFTER your test arrives at Vault Health.

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University Park: If further action is required of you, you will be contacted via phone and/or email within 24-48 hours. If your sample is part of a pool that returns in an indeterminate result, all persons in the pool will be contacted and asked to complete an individual level follow-up test and to isolate as a precautionary measure. Otherwise, you will not receive a test result.

Commonwealth Campuses: You will receive your results via your Penn State psu.edu email account.

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Yes. A COVID-19 test can only tell us your health status at a single point in time. Thus, testing is required regardless of previous negative results. 

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If you have a previous positive test, please log in to the registration system (covid.apps.psu.edu). Your specific circumstances will be assessed, and you will be informed whether you need to continue with testing.

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The data is stored in HIPAA-compliant software and databases.

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Regardless of your symptom profile, a positive test will result in isolation. University Health Services/Student Contact Tracing will contact you by phone or email and discuss guidelines for isolation and will provide you with the date you can return to normal activity. If you are living on campus, you will be moved to on-campus isolation space.

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After being tested by the surveillance program, students will be returned to the testing pool seven days later. This is because someone’s COVID status can change at any time. Penn State is committed to providing ongoing testing for the campus community that provides an accurate estimate of the disease prevalence so that mitigation steps may be taken.

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