Health and Safety

Guidance is provided on the use of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the classroom and on campus to ensure the safety of our instructors, staff, and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PPE Policy, Classroom Management and Safety video below provides helpful tips for teaching in a physically-distanced classroom. Health and safety guidelines apply to all flexible instructional modes.

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Penn State has launched a new public health campaign, Mask Up or Pack Up, designed to promote COVID-19 mitigation efforts and protect those most vulnerable.

Learn more about Mask Up or Pack Up on Penn State News


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Policies, Guidelines, and Recommendations

Frequently Asked Questions

Review the following frequently asked questions about health and safety. For additional information, read all frequently asked questions.

Health and Safety

Students completing hands-on laboratory experiments/projects at home must submit the “Labs at Home” approval request form to Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for a risk review and approval. Many students’ homes are not set up with adequate ventilation and lack environmentally safe disposal procedures, and students may have insufficient experience to handle the situation if something were to go wrong, along with other concerns about chemical safety and other safety considerations.

You should not ask someone for test results. You can communicate to students that your expectation is that they have completed their required testing and that they are following isolation requirements if they tested positive.

No one should come to a lab/studio/work/class if they have symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19 until the isolation period is completed and symptoms resolve fully. If someone tests negative, they can return to a lab/studio/work/class while continuing to abide by all safety procedures and protocols including masking, distancing, and hygiene practices.

There are no additional COVID-19 testing requirements for conducting on-campus research. Students must have a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to campus as part of their return for the spring 2021 semester. However, there are no additional test requirements for entering research facilities.

All students are required to complete pre-arrival testing before returning to campus for any activity, including lab or studio work. It is appropriate for a lab or studio leader to be clear about the expectation that the student complete the required testing and ask whether the student has completed the testing; however, a lab or studio leader should not ask for a test result. If a student tests positive, then supervisors will be notified as part of Penn State’s contact tracing process.

Lab instructors must adhere to specially designed requirements and guidelines provided to academic units. Masking and physical distancing guidelines apply. For specific precautions to take, see the Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations.

When students don’t wear masks, they will be asked to leave the classroom. Students who are not present cannot participate. It is on this basis that instructors may reduce participation points — and encourage wearing a mask.

Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant (OPP) worked through the summer to carefully evaluate all building mechanical and life safety systems to determine that they were fully functional and ready for occupancy and that they met or exceeded all of the building systems requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). OPP then implemented intensive corrective and preventive maintenance for every building at every campus. Learn more about OPP’s procedures and plans (PDF).

Extra masks are not stocked at the podium. Instructors are issued an initial box of 50 procedure masks. It is recommended that the instructor bring 2–3 additional procedure masks to issue to students who forget their masks. Instructors also may ask the student(s) to leave the classroom and retrieve their cloth mask before returning to class. Instructors will be able to obtain additional procedure masks through their Department or College.

The task group on Instruction, Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations has produced a report that provides guidance on different types of masks and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the classroom to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The task group sought to balance the need for an instructor to be heard intelligibly for in-person instruction while also being mindful that students may be participating through the remote environment. The group also made recommendations regarding the accommodation of disabilities and examined different instructional settings ranging from traditional classrooms to laboratories and performance spaces. Read the report to learn more about this guidance.

Consistent with Centers for Disease Control/Pennsylvania Department of Health guidance, Penn State defines a close contact as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic people, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

Traditional classroom settings have been re-configured with an “instructor zone” to create at least 6 feet or more of physical separation between the instructor and the nearest student. In addition, classroom occupancies have been greatly reduced to maintain at least 6 feet clearance between student seating. This is illustrated in pages 8 and 9 of Penn State’s Instruction, Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations (DOC). As long as 6 feet of physical distancing is maintained, then the students and instructors would not be deemed close contacts if someone in the class were to test positive for COVID-19.

In instructional settings where contact is closer than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes, those individuals should be identified by the positive individual through the contact tracing process and would be required to quarantine. Although some faculty and students have been issued face shields as an added layer of protection in these settings, this does not necessarily exclude these individuals as close contacts.

Those identified as close contacts are quarantined for 14 days from the date of the last contact and tested. If they test positive, they are isolated. If not, they remain in quarantine for a period of 14 days from the date of the last contact.

Starting August 6, 2020, all faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to complete a daily symptom checker to self-screen for potential COVID-19 symptoms before returning to campus. You can access the COVID-19 Symptom Checker in the Penn State Go mobile app. Download Penn State Go from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

Once the app is installed, you can select the Faculty and Staff Experience when prompted to select your Penn State Go Experience. If you already downloaded the app and selected a different Penn State Go Experience, you can change to the Faculty and Staff Experience using the “Change App Experience” icon.

The daily COVID-19 symptom checker is located under the Coronavirus Resources section.

For more information, visit the Penn State Go website and learn about its features.

If a student is exhibiting symptoms in a classroom, the instructor is empowered to ask the student to leave the class and to see a health care provider. The student should not return to class until they are no longer exhibiting symptoms or have been cleared by a health care provider and can provide proof of clearance to the instructor. If the student refuses to leave, the instructor should follow the guidance in the classroom guidance document (PDF)

There are four common types of face coverings: procedure masks, cloth masks, clear face masks, and clear face shields (the latter of which may be used in addition to one of the other three in laboratory-type settings, where substances may splatter). The University requires that all instructors wear procedure masks or cloth masks while instructing students. Clear face masks may be required if students need to be able to see the instructor’s lips (e.g. in a language course). If a student has a disability-related reason to need to view the instructor’s facial expressions or read lips for best comprehension, Student Disability Resources will have clear masks to support student access and will contact faculty as needed regarding these accommodations. For more information, see the Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations.

The Penn State Graduate Program in Acoustics collaborated with the Dept. of Environmental Health and Safety to test sound levels and audio signals to determine how instructors with face masks will be perceived by students. Results showed that procedure masks “facilitate clear communication in an instructional setting, as they do not muffle speech as much as cloth masks.” Procedure masks are disposable, single-use masks that will be provided, with care instructions, to instructors no later than the week before classes begin.

Results were consistent across room types and Zoom meetings, and amplification (microphones) were helpful in producing intelligible sound. For more information, see the Acoustics Testing results document.

The Office of Physical Plant will supply and maintain a canister of disinfectant wipes in each General Purpose Classroom, Departmental Classroom, and “Open” Computer Lab. The wipes can be used by instructors and students to disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as desktops, podiums, door handles, light switches, etc. Use of the wipes is not a requirement in between classes, but is an option made available if disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces is desired. OPP Custodial will be disinfecting these rooms once daily, Monday through Friday, so the use of the wipes can be a supplement in between these cleanings. Frequently touched surfaces in these rooms include, but are not limited to, chairs, light switches, door handles, computers, keyboards and mice, touch screens, tables, trash receptacles, recycling receptacles, printers, desktops, podiums, and chalk tray rails.

Refusal to wear a mask will be considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. You can also read about how the University will support professors when students do not adhere to mask-wearing guidelines.

Yes, instructors are required to wear face masks covering their nose and mouth. Each employee will receive two cloth face masks. In accordance with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, all University employees will be required to wear masks  — ideally cloth — while on campus, including outdoors and in hallways, classrooms, shared work areas, and other public spaces. Face shields are not considered an adequate substitute for masks, but should be worn in combination with a cloth or procedure mask in certain circumstances outlined in the “PPE and Instruction Recommendations per Learning Environment” section of the Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations document. Read more about mask wearing on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site.

Read guidance about what to do if you test positive on the Penn State Coronavirus Information site.

Also, instructors (faculty or graduate instructors) should work with supervisors to determine how adjustments can be made.

At least 50 faculty and staff members from many Penn State campuses and disciplines contributed to  the initial phase of researching  and testing various masks and other PPE in classroom, laboratory, and other campus settings.

The 500,000 cloth masks referenced by Dr. Barron, as well as the PPE procedure masks needed to support teaching and instruction, are scheduled to arrive on or around August 7. PPE will be distributed to individual campuses, colleges, and administrative units the week of August 10. There are no costs associated with these masks.

However, if you require PPE or supplies before the University supplied masks arrive, you can order supplies through General Stores. Find ordering information on the Environmental Health and Safety Pandemic Supply List.

Testing is ongoing and the recommendations will continue to be updated. Multiple sub-groups are evaluating additional pedagogical learning environments before the fall semester, including instructional laboratories, performance settings (music/vocal/theater), close contact settings (nursing/physical therapy/allied health), and others.

Paper poses low risk for virus transmission. Classroom requirements related to mask wearing as well as encouragement of hand sanitizing should reduce the risk of transmission via paper syllabi, handouts, or exams. Instructors should use their own judgement and deliver documents via Canvas or other digital tools and administer exams electronically to diminish concerns about the use of paper. Such tools also support Penn State’s broader commitment to sustainability.

Some faculty have been seeking additional guidance on how to work with students who test positive for coronavirus or who find themselves in other special circumstances created by this crisis, which could include:

  • caring for family members and friends who contract the virus;
  • caring for children who are not attending school/daycare;
  • food and housing insecurity caused by loss of employment; etc.

Students who contract this virus will have varying symptoms, from mild cold symptoms to flu-like symptoms to hospitalization (the least likely). Mild to moderate illness can last up to 14 days. Students are being encouraged to communicate with their faculty to describe their level of illness and the work that they can accomplish while they are ill. Other related challenges that might impact attendance should be communicated to faculty in a similar fashion.

Senate Policy 42-27 on Class Attendance emphasizes the importance of regular attendance but also grants faculty a great deal of latitude in providing reasonable opportunities for students to make up work for legitimate and unavoidable reasons including illness, family emergency, etc. Although faculty can use their judgment in assessing a student’s illness claim, students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel and faculty do not need to secure documentation to support their professional judgement.

When undergraduate students are ill:
In situations where undergraduate students become ill near the end of the semester, faculty have the option of assigning deferred grades under Senate Policy 48-40. This policy requires students to complete the work within the prescribed timeline or else the grade is converted to an F. Students and faculty will be notified of the approaching deadline, and faculty have the option of requesting an extension; they can also update the F grade later using the grade-change process. The use of deferred grades is appropriate on a case-by-case basis but not for an entire class.

When graduate students are ill:
When a graduate student becomes ill near the end of the semester or faces other significant life events, policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence provides three opportunities to meet the needs of the student:

  • Short-Term Absence (< 3 weeks)
    • appropriate when the graduate student is expected to be able to complete the work within the semester
  • Extended Absence (within a semester)
    • appropriate when the graduate student is expected to be able to complete the work within the semester or when a Deferred Grade will allow the student to finish the work when they have recovered from the illness; Graduate Council’s policy GCAC-401 Grading System has additional information on Deferred Grades for graduate students
  • Leave of Absence
    • appropriate when the graduate student is not expected to complete the work in a timely fashion even with the Deferred Grade extension
    • if necessary, an Extended Leave can be converted to a Leave of Absence as described in the policy

Students can also refer to the Penn State Coronavirus Information site for guidance on what happens if they test positive.

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