Update to undergraduates on plans for the fall semester

When we announced our plans for the fall semester last month, we indicated that we would provide updates as new information became available regarding the pandemic and the University’s operations. Today we write to provide you with the latest information on our plans for the coming academic year. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our University’s planning and actions have been driven by two fundamental principles: that we do everything within our powers to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and community, and that we provide our students with the very finest educational experience possible under these extraordinary and challenging circumstances. As we began planning for the upcoming academic year, we were well aware that bringing college students together from across the country and around the world in the midst of a pandemic presented uniquely difficult challenges. This has become ever more apparent as the pandemic has continued to spread over the past month with young people becoming the fastest growing cohort.

In our message concerning the fall on June 25, we stressed that our decision was guided by the most current medical information and governmental directives, and cautioned that our plans could change depending on the progression of the pandemic. It is now evident that rather than plateauing during the summer, as many health experts expected, COVID-19 has instead gained momentum. Since our June 25 message, 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the United States, with the confirmed case count soaring from 2.4 million on June 25 to 3.9 million on July 22. This means that almost 40% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic have been reported in the last month.  

Against this backdrop and as the pandemic continues to progress, the University’s planning has evolved on several fronts.

The majority of instruction will be online

Undergraduate courses for the fall semester are being offered online, with a few, limited, in person offerings. For undergraduates in the Nursing School, the only in-person course work will be clinical simulations, experiences in the hospital, and clinical settings. For students in the other three undergraduate schools, a minimal number of courses will be offered in-person where it is essential to have an in-person experience in order to meet curricular and/or pedagogical requirements. Penn first-year international students can get a support letter from their academic school/department to confirm that they are attending a hybrid program in Fall 2020. If an in-person course is offered, accommodations will be provided for those studying remotely. Instructors may elect to come to campus for in-person office hours or to meet in person with students from time to time. These interactions are outside-the-classroom activities and comparable interactions will also be provided online. 

Repeated COVID-19 testing required 

One of the essential pillars of our reopening plan is testing for the virus. Penn will be requiring all undergraduate students who are returning to Philadelphia—regardless of whether they are living on or off-campus—to take a minimum of two COVID tests to participate as a member of the Penn community this fall.

Pre-Arrival Testing

We are now requiring that all students residing in the United States who plan to be on campus for the fall have a negative COVID-19 test within 14 days prior to arrival on campus. As a convenience to undergraduates and families, Penn has arranged with a private third-party testing laboratory for a COVID-19 testing kit to be delivered to each domestic student at their home address. These test kits contain detailed instructions. The kits also come with a postage paid envelope for return of the test to the testing laboratory.

If you intend to return to campus this fall, you must verify the address where your test kit will be shipped. This should be the location where you will be for the two weeks prior to your coming to Philadelphia. Please provide this shipping information in Penn InTouch as soon as possible, and no later than 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, August 2. When you receive the test, you will be given further instructions. Please follow the instructions closely. The test should be administered and returned as promptly as possible in order to ensure you receive the result prior to your departure for Philadelphia. The Announcements section in Penn InTouch will have additional details about shipping. 

Once the test results are available, they will be provided to the University and the undergraduate via an app of the distributor of the test kit. If a student tests positive from the pre-arrival test kit, they should remain in isolation at home for 14 days from their test date. They should start all classes remotely until they can travel safely to Philadelphia after completing their isolation period.

Arrival Testing for Students Living On and Off-Campus

Upon arrival on campus, students will again be tested for COVID-19. All students who plan to live in on-campus housing, whether in college housing or Greek houses, will receive instructions prior to move-in, which will include an assigned date, time, and location to report first for an on-campus arrival test before moving into their on-campus residence. Students will be required to quarantine until they receive a negative test result. Accommodations and meals will be provided to students required to quarantine in college housing. The testing and move-in process will differ depending on the student’s assigned arrival date. In order to maintain a safe move-in process, there will be very limited exceptions for requests to adjust assigned dates and times.

Although undergraduates living in off-campus housing will not have assigned move-in dates, they will nevertheless be required to complete a COVID-19 arrival test. These students should coordinate with their roommates and landlords so that arrival in shared residences can occur over a series of days to minimize contact with others. All students, whether living on- or off-campus, are required to attest to the Student Campus Compact and to abide by all required testing, quarantine, and isolation protocols and behavioral expectations. Students already in the Philadelphia area, and students not yet in Philadelphia who plan to live in off-campus housing, should register for their arrival test as early as possible. Details on registering will be provided shortly. Questions about the testing program can be sent to covidtesting@upenn.edu. All student arrival testing needs to be completed no later than September 2, 2020. Failure to complete testing in a timely manner will result in restrictions to access to campus and/or academic resources. 

Additionally, for international students and students arriving from states that are designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as hotspots, public health guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Philadelphia. To minimize risk of spreading COVID-19, the University will require all international students and students arriving from “hotspot” states to take an additional third test within five to seven days of when their first on-campus test was administered. The University will deliver meals to students in quarantine who live in college housing. Penn will do all that we can to support these students. Additional information will be provided by VPUL and the college houses. 

Both the pre-arrival and on campus arrival testing will be paid for by the University as well as the additional testing discussed above for international and students from domestic “hotspot” states.

Fall Semester 

Starting September 1, we will test all members of the Penn community who have symptoms or others who do not have symptoms but have been identified as close contacts in a testing center we will be opening in the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall. 

Students will also be required to participate in surveillance testing, details of which will be provided at a later date. 

Symptom monitoring & contact tracing (PennOpen Pass)

Students who are coming to campus for any reason will be required to enroll in our symptom tracking program, PennOpen Pass, which we have been using successfully already for members of the Penn community. PennOpen Pass is a daily symptom checker to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the Penn community. Daily symptom tracking is critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our community as it will enable clinical staff and contact tracers to act quickly if COVID-19 is detected and to connect affected individuals to care. We are requiring anyone coming to campus with any regularity to perform daily symptom checks using PennOpen Pass before the start of each day including weekends, regardless of whether they are reporting to campus on that particular day.

If you have no symptoms and have not been in recent contact with someone who may have COVID-19, you get a Day Pass to enter Penn buildings. Otherwise, the tool will direct you to next steps. More information for students about PennOpen Pass will be forthcoming.

Complying with the Student Campus Compact

A successful fall semester is predicated on vigilance with regard to testing and contact tracing, individual decisions to act responsibly, and adherence to the Student Campus Compact by all Penn students regardless of whether they live on or off campus. We want to emphasize that there will be strict enforcement of the Student Campus Compact. If you are unable or unwilling to follow the requirements of the Compact, you should not return to Penn—whether living on- or off-campus. Failure to follow the requirements of the Compact may result in students being sent home.

Among other things, the Student Campus Compact requires students:

  • To collaborate with Penn on daily wellness checks with the new PennOpen Pass mobile program (details to be distributed), monitoring for symptoms, being tested as recommended by health professionals, and tracking your contacts should you test positive, as part of your public service to protecting your fellow students and Penn community members.
  • To maintain appropriate (6 feet) physical distance from others whenever possible.
  • To wear a facial covering when you leave your place of residence.
  • To wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds throughout each day and before and after interactions with others.
  • To use alcohol-based disinfectant wipes provided throughout campus buildings to clean surfaces with which you come into contact, including, but not limited to, desks and seats in classrooms.
  • To be up-to-date on all vaccines.
  • To receive a flu shot.
  • To refrain from having guests, including family members, in your campus residence.
  • To refrain from allowing individuals without a green “go” screen on the PennOpen Pass mobile checker to enter campus buildings.
  • To refrain from organizing, hosting, or attending events, parties, or other social gatherings off-campus that may cause safety risks to you and other members of the community.

An evolving dynamic

We know that any change is disruptive, and we are sensitive to the impact on family plans that can occur as the evolving dynamic of the pandemic forces the University to adapt. We are trying to do all that we can to minimize disruption while mitigating health risks and providing a meaningful educational experience. As you can imagine, there are a multitude of variables involved in bringing people back to campus. To do it successfully will require everyone involved to be vigilant to the needs of protecting our community, while also being flexible in adjusting to circumstances as the pandemic evolves and new information becomes available. 

In the face of this great challenge, we are confident in the dedication of everyone in the Penn family to work together to make this a successful and productive year. We welcome your feedback and questions and will continue to provide updated information in the weeks ahead.

For media inquiries, please contact: Ron Ozio at University Communications: 215-898-8658 ozio@upenn.edu.