Health and Safety

For the most up-to-date information about health guidelines, visit the Penn State Health Guidelines page.

For the most up-to-date vaccine information, visit the Penn State Vaccine Information page.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Health and Safety

As of June 28, masks are optional for those who are fully vaccinated. Those who are fully vaccinated (two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine) are not required to wear masks or physically distance in on-campus spaces unless they work in a designated health care space. You may still choose to wear a mask even if you are vaccinated. The transition back to in-person campus experiences is going to be different for each of us. Because people will have varying levels of comfort with wearing or not wearing a mask, regardless of vaccination status, we need to be respectful and thoughtful about how we support one another. While you are not required to wear a mask if you are vaccinated, wearing a mask if someone requests it is a good way to show that you care for all members of the Penn State community.

As of June 28, masks are optional for those who are fully vaccinated (two weeks after the second dose in a two-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine), including in classroom, advising, and student services spaces. Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks indoors at all times. If you want someone to wear a mask when interacting with you, you can request that they do so, but cannot require it. It is important to note that those who are working in or visiting designated health care environments must continue to wear masks indoors and maintain distancing regardless of vaccination status.

Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks indoors at all times. The COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from contracting COVID-19, as well as protecting you from severe illness should you contract COVID-19.

Getting vaccinated and encouraging students to get vaccinated is the most important step you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 in instructional spaces. In addition, instructors/advisers/graduate teaching assistants can be clear in syllabi and other documents that Penn State policy requires those who are unvaccinated to wear masks indoors. Those working in student-facing office spaces may wish to post reminders that those who are unvaccinated are required to wear masks.

Because students may be out of practice with being in spaces such as classrooms and offices, consider helping them reacclimate by encouraging the use of practices that help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other seasonal illness such as flu (e.g., hand hygiene, wearing of masks, not coming to class when ill). Remind students not to assume that only unvaccinated people will wear masks, as there are many reasons those who are vaccinated will continue to wear a mask. If wearing a mask makes them more comfortable, then they should continue to do so.

No. If an individual is not vaccinated, they are permitted in classrooms and advising spaces as all others are, provided they are masked. Physical distancing is not required for vaccinated or unvaccinated people.

No. If an individual is not vaccinated, they are permitted in classroom and advising/student services spaces as all others are, provided they are masked.

Instructors must work within the expectations of the course mode that is on the schedule of courses. If the course is scheduled as P (in-person), then the instructor must hold at least 75% of their course sessions in person. The remaining 25% could be remote synchronous or asynchronous, but, in all cases, the design of the course should be driven by pedagogical principles, and remote or asynchronous formats should not be used to avoid being in a classroom.

Yes, if you are alone in a walled office, you may remove your mask, regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated.

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 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.

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.

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.

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