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.
Policies, Guidelines, and Recommendations
- Acoustics Testing for Penn State’s “Teaching and PPE Committee” (PDF) - Last fall, the Graduate Program in Acoustics collaborated with the Department of EHS to perform acoustical and audio testing on how instructors with face masks will be perceived by students.
- COVID-19 Universal Masking — Cloth Mask Guidance (PDF) - This document provides general guidance on the use and care of cloth masks.
- Enforcing Mask Compliance in Instructional Spaces: Guidance for Instructors (DOC) - Based on guidance from the University, this document offers recommendations for instructors to respond to incidences of noncompliance to mask policy.
- Fall 2021 Guidance for Live Streaming vs. Recording Lectures (DOC) - This document gives instructors guidance for when to live stream lectures and when to record lectures, including the value of each and when each are appropriate.
- Fall 2021 Suggested Teaching Strategies in Residential Courses for Temporary Instructor or Student Absence (DOC) - This guide is meant to assist instructors in continuing course delivery in case of necessary student or instructor absence in alignment with Senate policy 42-27, Class Attendance.
Frequently Asked Questions
Note: The Health and Safety FAQs are being updated frequently. Check back often for the latest information.
Health and Safety
Are extra disposable masks stocked at the podium each day for me to give students who forget their masks?
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. Additional questions about disposable mask availability can be directed to your unit’s Pandemic Safety Officer.
If the student was identified through University testing, there is no other action you need to take. If the student received a positive test result from a third-party vendor not affiliated with the University (for example, urgent care clinic or primary care physician) you should encourage the student to report their result to the University by sharing this link: https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/covidsupport/reporting.
You may also submit information about students who have tested positive (or who have identified themselves as close contacts of students who have tested positive) on the Covid-19 Close Contact or Positive Case Referral Form. Further information can be found on the Contact Tracing and Reporting Test Results page on the Student Affairs website. Please do not report a class roster. Contact tracers will follow up with classmates identified as close contacts.
For guidance on working with students who test positive for coronavirus or who find themselves in special circumstances created by this crisis, please see this FAQ.
How do I handle attendance and assignments if one of my students tests positive for or believes they have contracted COVID-19?
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
The Penn State Student Quarantine and Isolation document describes how you will be notified if a student in your class is in quarantine or isolation and the role faculty can play in contact tracing efforts.
With the exception of bottled water, all food and drink consumption is prohibited in classrooms. Straws are recommended to minimize the time masks are moved aside for those drinking water. And you should also be especially conscious of physical distancing when drinking. For more information, refer to policy AD62 – Use of General Purpose Classrooms.
Lab instructors must adhere to specially designed requirements and guidelines provided to academic units. Masking guidelines apply.
Students both on-campus and off-campus who have not shared with the University that they have been vaccinated will be notified when they have to test, and there will be significant consequences for noncompliance. Consequences for noncompliance include a process of warnings and sanctions up to and including suspension.
What should I do to accommodate a student who needs to be absent due to illness, isolation, or quarantine?
You may provide traditional sorts of make-up assignments (e.g., provide slides, offer office-hour appointments, extend due dates, etc.) appropriate for the course and its designated delivery mode. University Faculty Senate Policy 42-27 on Class Attendance states, “Instructors also should provide, within reason, the opportunity to make up work for students who miss classes for other legitimate but unavoidable reasons. It should be recognized that not all work can be ‘made-up’ and that absences can affect student performance in a class. Providing reasonable opportunities for make-up work also encourages students who may be ill, for any reason, not to attend class, which we want to support.
Keep in mind that you can’t adjust the grading scheme for a student who needs make-up work since all students have to have the same opportunity to earn grades that you outlined in your syllabus. For example, if a student has missed a quiz but all students have the opportunity to drop their lowest quiz grade, you can’t have the student who was temporarily absent be forced to drop the quiz that they missed as their lowest grade. Determine whether there are simple ways to provide access to the elements that the student will miss, so that there would be no need for make-up work.
Instructors are encouraged to communicate their contingency plans in advance so that students are aware of expectations in case of a temporary instructor or student absence.
For suggestions on dealing with temporary absence see faculty senate guidance on attendance. For detailed resources on how to handle specific situations, please see the fall 2021 suggested teaching strategies for temporary instructor or student absence.
What should I do if I, as the instructor, need to be absent due to illness, isolation, or quarantine?
Penn State’s definitions of instructional modes permit up to 24 percent of an in-person class to be offered remotely. Instructors may utilize this flexibility to manage their own absences due to COVID-19, other unavoidable circumstances, or travel, or for pedagogical reasons. Specifically, in case of their own illness, quarantine, or isolation, instructors may temporarily shift to remote synchronous or asynchronous instruction if able to do so.
As always, instructors should inform unit leaders if normal delivery will be interrupted for more than one or two class sessions.
Instructors should communicate their contingency plans in advance so that students are aware of expectations in case of a temporary instructor or student absence.
For detailed resources on how to handle specific situations, please see the fall 2021 suggested teaching strategies for temporary instructor or student absence.
Who is considered to be a ‘close contact’ in the contact-tracing process? Do close contacts have to quarantine or isolate? Will I be identified as a close contact if a student in my class tests positive?
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 15 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.
Close contacts identified through the contact tracing process may be required to quarantine depending upon their vaccination status and symptoms. Unvaccinated individuals are required to quarantine for a minimum of 7-10 days and are encouraged to test on day 5 or later.
Asymptomatic individuals that are fully vaccinated (last dose plus 2 weeks) are not required to quarantine and are encouraged to get tested 2-5 days after exposure. Symptomatic, vaccinated individuals should quarantine until they are tested. Close contacts who test positive will be required to isolate for 10 days from their test or symptom start date.
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.
Everyone must wear a mask while inside buildings on Penn State campuses, effective August 4, 2021. This applies to classrooms, meeting spaces and other shared public indoor areas. If you are alone in a walled office space, you may remove your mask.
For the most up-to-date masking guidance, refer to the Health Guidelines page on the Virus Info website.
If I am not fully vaccinated, what precautions do I need to take while teaching, advising, or working with students in an on-campus space?
Everyone must wear masks at all times in all University public indoor spaces. The University encourages everyone who is able to do so to get a COVID-19 vaccination as the vaccines are effective at keeping you from contracting COVID-19, as well as protecting you from severe illness should you contract COVID-19.
What can I do within instructional, advising, and student services spaces to maximize health and safety?
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 everyone to wear masks indoors. Those working in student-facing office spaces may wish to post reminders that everyone is required to wear a mask.
What actions can I recommend students take to feel more comfortable transitioning back to in-person spaces?
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).
You should not ask someone for test results. You can encourage students to get vaccinated and communicate to students that your expectation is that, if they are unvaccinated, they have completed their required testing and 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 and hygiene practices.
Do I need a negative COVID-19 test before entering my lab, my creative studio, or other on-campus research facility?
There are no additional COVID-19 testing requirements for conducting on-campus research and there are no additional test requirements for entering research facilities. You can learn more by reading about the new COVID-19 testing protocols for the fall 2021 semester.
If students have visible flu-like symptoms in a face-to-face class setting, are instructors able to ask them to leave?
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. For classroom and syllabus guidelines, including information about what to do if a student fails to adhere to masking requirements, refer to the COVID-19 Classroom Guidance page on the Student Affairs website.
What masks are recommended to ensure that voices can be heard in-person in a larger room and on a recording?
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 (PDF).
Can I request that unvaccinated masked individuals remain 6’ from others in classrooms or advising/student services offices?
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.
Does the working-alone guidance still apply? In particular, if I am alone in a walled office, can I remove my mask?
Yes, if you are alone in a walled office, you may remove your mask, regardless of whether or not you are vaccinated.
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.
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 with a hearing disability attends class for a course with an in-person element, should instructors wear face shields instead of cloth masks, so that student can see the instructor’s lips?
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.
Will instructors and students be provided with the resources to disinfect frequently touched surfaces in classrooms?
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.