Frequently Asked Questions

Community

On Aug. 11, the Big Ten Conference, which includes Penn State, announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season, including all regular-season contests and Big Ten Championships and Tournaments, due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Maintaining the health and safety of the campus and local communities is the top priority driving Penn State’s decision-making and policy changes as it relates to the pandemic.

As part of a layered approach, Penn State will be implementing a COVID-19 testing program that will consist of in-house and third-party contracted testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.The plan includes testing for 30,000 students, faculty and staff from locations with a high prevalence of the disease before arrival on campus, as well as daily testing throughout the semester.

In addition, the University has developed requirements for students to meet prior to returning to campus and local communities this semester. For example, all students must self-quarantine — even if you do not feel sick or have no symptoms — for at least 7 days immediately prior to your arrival on campus, prior to moving into off-campus housing, or prior to starting classes if you are already living off-campus. Those who are sick, think you have been exposed to COVID or are experiencing symptoms, should continue to isolate and not return to campus until cleared by a medical professional.

Penn State also will encourage flu shots for all students before the onset of flu season, or certainly before the start of the spring semester, with an eye toward addressing the complicated season that is likely to include flu along with COVID-19, and to reducing as much as possible, a demand for health facilities in order to maintain capacity for the severely ill. At University Park, Penn State’s largest campus, officials are working closely with Mount Nittany Medical Center as part of collaboration with local public health entities, in accordance with state guidance. In addition, partnerships in the communities in which Commonwealth Campuses are situated also are taking place.

All actions being implemented are based on guidance from Penn State health experts and scientists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, among others. The University will meet or exceed the expectations for colleges and universities outlined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for returning students and employees to campus.

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The University plans to report on a campus-by-campus basis information that includes the numbers of tests and positive and negative results, and a public-facing dashboard will soon be made available to all in the community. While it will not reveal individual or specific location data that could compromise privacy, the dashboard will share general community-level disease prevalence indicators. This information will play an important role in the community’s adherence to guidelines. Flat or falling cases will affirm our community is taking appropriate steps to minimize spread. If there is an uptick in cases, awareness of the increase is important so that the community can redouble its efforts in masking and social distancing, and evaluate additional needs. We will provide more details about our reporting plans in the near future.

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Governor’s Guidance

An order issued by Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine on July 15 prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 25 and outdoor gatherings of more than 250. (Note: The order prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 25 does not apply to classrooms, per the Pennsylvania Department of Education.)

The guidance below applies to any Penn State-sponsored event, either on or off campus.

Indoor meetings and events
Meetings and events of 10 or fewer participants are permitted with no prior permission required. All participants must wear masks and meeting/event organizers must take into account the maximum occupancy of the space that allows for at least six feet of distance between participants. Requests to hold indoor meetings and events of between 11 and 25 participants must be submitted for approval to unit executives (see “Approval Process” below). No indoor meetings or events of more than 25 participants are permitted.

Outdoor meetings and events
Outdoor meetings of 10 or fewer participants are permitted with no prior permission required, taking into account the maximum occupancy of the space that allows for at least six feet of distance between participants. Masks are required when six feet of distance between participants cannot be maintained. Requests for outdoor meetings of between 11 and 250 participants must be submitted for approval to unit executives (see “Approval Process” below. No outdoor meetings or events of more than 250 participants are permitted.

Approval Process
Meeting/event organizers requesting permission for an indoor meeting of between 11 and 25 participants, or an outdoor meeting or event of between 11 and 250 participants, must:

—Explain how the proposed event is in alignment with the mission of the university;
—Provide justification as to why the meeting or event cannot take place virtually or in a hybrid format (some participants in person and others virtually);
—Provide the total number of individuals attending the meeting or event, which must include the employees working the event;
—Include a plan that outlines how the organizers will meet the state of Pennsylvania’s regulations. Masks and other required PPE must be worn if the event is indoors and plans for abiding by social distancing guidelines must be included;
—Provide evidence that employees requesting to attend the meeting or event have been approved via the Return to Work process. A request must be made to return employees to the workplace at https://sites.psu.edu/returntowork/;
—If the event is on campus, work with the Office of Physical Plant to determine the room capacity that allows for social distancing;
—Keep a list of all attendees, the ‘return to work’ approval status of employees, the locations from which non-employees are traveling, and their telephone numbers for contact purposes.

Events should be scheduled with the full understanding that if the county in which the campus is located moves to the Yellow or Red phase or if state guidance otherwise changes, the guidelines for the county must be followed and the event may need to be cancelled.

Campuses whose counties are in the Yellow or Red Phase
At campuses whose counties are in the Yellow or Red phase, no meetings or events of any kind with more than 10 attendees may be scheduled. For essential indoor events of between 11 and 25, or outdoor events of between 11 and 250, at campuses whose counties are in the Yellow or Red phase, approval to hold the event must be sought from Executive Vice President and Provost, Nicholas P. Jones, at provost@psu.edu. All requests must include a description of how social distancing will be maintained at the event.

Attention to COVID rates in other areas
Meetings that require travel between campuses that are in the Yellow or Red phase, or where participants are from states where cases of COVID-19 are rising, should only be permitted if there are special circumstances and with unit executive approval. All Penn State employees must follow existing travel guidance.

Unit executives should elevate meeting/event requests to the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs if there is uncertainty about whether the meeting/event should be approved.

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At this time, the University plans to utilize the Nittany Lion Inn on campus for additional classroom space and single-occupancy housing for on-campus resident students. The Penn Stater Hotel & Conference Center is expected to reopen in July, following the latest guidance from government and public health authorities.

For questions about current reservations, please call 800-233-7505 or email reservations@psu.edu.

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The University is working with the Wolf Administration on its Back to State plans and has confirmed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education that the order limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 25 people does not apply to classrooms. Other indoor gatherings, however, cannot exceed 25 individuals and must adhere to masking and social distancing requirements. The University will continue to work closely with the Wolf Administration on its return-to-campus plans and is prepared to shift quickly as the pandemic and resulting orders and guidelines evolve, all with a focus on the health and safety of Penn State campuses and surrounding communities

All schools in Pennsylvania, including universities, continue to be subject to guidance from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which are designed to aid in safely resuming in-person instruction. These guidelines allow for larger groups in classrooms as long as face masking and social distancing are in place. The University has committed to meeting and, where possible, exceeding the Wolf Administration’s guidelines.

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The University is concerned by the current trends and continuously monitoring state and national disease data and following guidance from state and local health officials. Based on that guidance, and in consultation with faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health, the University is prepared to adjust its approach as necessary, including the possibility that Penn State would need to shift the semester to a fully remote learning environment once again. The University and Governor Wolf have previously stressed the importance of following guidelines to protect community health and minimize the spread of the virus, and cautioned that lax behaviors could undo progress toward reopening campuses.

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Penn State is prepared to be nimble and responsive based on the latest information, monitoring and evolving virus infection rates. The University will employ strategies to create an effective detection and management system for all of its campuses, including testing, contact tracing, and monitoring and reacting to trends in data at the community, state and national levels to see if a pattern is emerging so leaders can act accordingly.

All classes that are planned to have in-person meetings will have contingency plans for reverting to remote instruction modalities if health circumstances require ending in-person learning earlier than Nov. 20. All future decisions will be based on the best available public-health information, in the interest of the safety and well-being of Penn State students, faculty and staff.

A number of factors may lead to additional distancing measures or adjustments to campus-based residential course delivery. These factors include changes in the virus caseload of a campus or region; a county’s status under the governor’s red-yellow-green guidelines; the capacity of the local health care system; community compliance with health and safety protocols; and additional risks, such as the onset of an early virulent flu season. Faculty experts in epidemiology, medicine and public health are continuously monitoring county, state and local disease data, which will allow the University to respond to any changes in the pandemic that would require proactive steps to mitigate and manage any potential outbreak. Any recorded upticks will be analyzed and, as needed, decisions about the status of in-residence instruction will be made on a campus-by-campus basis, taking into consideration guidance from public health officials.

The University’s 16 task groups focused on responding to the coronavirus have been scenario planning for months. These scenarios necessarily include one in which Penn State must send students home from a campus and revert to remote learning. If our public health advisers become concerned that it is no longer safe for students and employees to be on our campuses, we are prepared to quickly take action and change course.

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Throughout the pandemic, Penn State has been working with local community leaders and stakeholders, both in the State College area and in neighboring communities across the commonwealth, to partner on strategies to limit the local impacts of COVID-19 through collaborative efforts informed by health and science. To allow in-residence instruction and activities to continue and to uphold the health and safety of campus and local communities, students will be urged to take personal responsibility and follow health guidelines, including wearing masks, adhering to physical distancing practices, washing hands, and covering coughs and sneezes. In addition to providing education and support directly to students, fraternities and other student organizations, Penn State will coordinate with local government officials, landlords and local employers to share resources and to encourage students to follow expectations for off-campus behavior. In addition, University policies are under review due to these new circumstances, where we must rely on everyone to fulfill their social obligation to keep the community as healthy as possible. Based on the governor’s guidelines advising against large gatherings, and out of respect for the risks to the broader University community, large gatherings are discouraged. Indoor gatherings cannot exceed 25 individuals, and must adhere to masking and social distancing requirements.

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Penn State will begin to have students and employees return to campuses in phases and will have significant prevention and public health procedures and strategies in place to support the health and safety of students, employees and local communities – the top priority in resuming on-campus activities. Given Pennsylvania’s county-by-county phased pandemic management plan, the status of each Penn State campus may vary, particularly for those that may be located in an area of the commonwealth where various restrictions are in place due to the number of COVID-19 cases in that region.

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By following University and CDC guidelines for masking, social distancing and hand hygiene, students can have a direct impact in achieving an extended return to learning and living on campus this fall. Upon returning to campus, students will be asked to take personal responsibility both on and off campus and to sign a pledge to help uphold the health of the community by following University guidelines.

Mask wearing and social distancing will be required in class, and faculty members will have discretion to make delivery modality adjustments if they have concerns about adherence to University requirements. Faculty members have long had considerable influence over behavior in the classroom, either through informal conversations with students or through grading and class participation polices. Students will be warned first, but faculty will have the authority to remove students from class if they refuse to comply. Where students fail to comply despite these efforts, faculty members can refer students to the University’s conduct process through the Office of Student Conduct, and students will be required to participate in a disciplinary process before they can return to the classroom. Faculty have received guidance on enforcement, and they will be supported in these critical measures.

To serve as a reminder to all, distance markers, directional arrows, signage and other visual cues will be installed in high-traffic areas, classrooms, common areas, study spaces and other shared locations across the campuses.

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For specific information, contact your local LaunchBox. In keeping with statewide guidance to close all nonessential public spaces, Penn State’s physical LaunchBox locations are closed until further notice. Depending on programming at individual locations, some support services, accelerator programs and events/workshops will be held online. Others have been postponed or canceled.

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