A how-to guide for COVID-19 testing at Penn

With the launch of Penn Cares, Penn Today provides additional details on the new testing program, how eligible members of the Penn community can enroll, and how the testing procedure works.

a person standing in front of a desk receiving instructions on where to go inside of a tent for covid testing
Inside the tent at high rise field, one of eight sites available across campus for screening testing this semester. 

Last month, a new COVID-19 saliva-based testing strategy for the Penn community was launched. Developed through a partnership between Penn Medicine, Wellness at Penn, and the Center for Public Health Initiatives (CPHI), the testing infrastructure established as part of the “Project Quaker” program is now ready to conduct 40,000 saliva-based COVID-19 screening tests each week and is a key component of safely repopulating campus during the spring semester.

Here, Penn Today provides additional details on this program, how eligible members of the Penn community can enroll, and how the testing procedure works.

What is Penn Cares?

Penn Cares is Penn’s COVID-19-response program that includes all measures to help safeguard students, faculty, postdocs, and staff, as well as the broader Philadelphia community from spreading the virus. Included within the program are strict public health guidance instituted across the University, a robust screening testing program, and wellness resources for overall mental and physical health. Additionally, all students, faculty, staff, and postdocs are required to enroll and participate in PennOpen Pass, a daily symptom tracker and exposure reporting system.

A critical component of Penn Cares includes recurring saliva-based screening testing for COVID-19 to monitor transmission rates across campus. This includes twice-weekly tests on pre-assigned day pairs for undergraduate students living on or off campus and twice-weekly testing on chosen two-day pairs for graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff who live on campus. Additionally, weekly tests are required for graduate students, faculty, postdocs, and staff who are on campus for four or more hours each week.

a person wearing a surgical gown and gloves taking out a piece of paper from a printer while working at a computer desk
The infrastructure developed through Project Quaker, from the IT platform that tracks samples to PPE and collection tubes, has enabled the University to increase their on-campus testing capacity by more than 400%. 

Anyone who has had a positive COVID-19 test in the past 90 days is exempt from screening testing until notified, and clinical students whose rotations take them away from campus are also exempt but may participate in the screening program when they return to campus. Members of the campus community who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and who meet testing criteria should enroll in the testing program because it is not yet known whether the vaccine prevents someone from spreading the virus to others.

Those who are symptomatic or have had close contact with a positive COVID-19 case should complete their required daily PennOpen Pass and will then receive a red PennOpen Pass with information about appropriate next steps.

How do eligible individuals enroll in the Penn Cares screening testing program?

Members of the Penn community who meet the testing criteria enroll in the program simply by scheduling their first test at covidscheduling.upenn.edu. Students must schedule their first screening test three and seven days after their gateway test. Eligible faculty, postdocs, and staff must schedule their first screening test for the first week they are on campus.

Where and when can eligible individuals get tested?

Socially distanced students waiting to take COVID tests at Houston Hall
Eligible members of the Penn community will be able to schedule their weekly or biweekly tests at one of eight sites across campus, including Houston Hall, and test results will be available “well within” 48 hours.

Testing is by appointment only, and walk-ins will not be accepted. Appointments are available in 15-minute intervals on a first-come, first-served basis and can be scheduled several weeks in advance. For additional information on how to schedule an appointment, consult the tip sheet.

Starting on Jan. 11, all eight testing sites (plus one site dedicated to red PennOpen Pass symptomatic and exposure testing) will be operational. For detailed information on testing sites, including accessibility, hours, and entry and exit points, visit the COVID-19 testing location website.

Students living on campus must also participate in gateway testing by going directly to one of two testing sites after depositing their belongings. High Rise Field and the Annenberg Center will be accepting walk-in appointments for this purpose. Off-campus students should complete their gateway test no later than Jan. 18 and begin their screening testing thereafter.

What is the testing process like?

Anyone being tested is asked to not eat, drink, brush teeth, use mouthwash, chew gum, vape, or use tobacco products for at least 30 minutes before the test to prevent sample contamination. Participants should bring only their PennCard and their completed PennOpen Pass and wear a mask to their appointment.

The sample collection process should take less than 15 minutes, and test results will be available in 24-48 hours on the COVID Results website. Anyone who receives a positive test result will receive a red PennOpen Pass as well as instructions for next steps.

Data collected through this screening program, including the number of new positive cases and the test positivity rate, will be updated weekly on Penn’s COVID-19 dashboard.

What else is being done to keep the campus safe?

As part of Penn’s comprehensive public health program, institutional actions are in place to complement individual behaviors, such as wearing a mask, staying physically distanced, and washing hands. This includes extra cleaning and ventilation checks in campus buildings, screening and testing programs, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, as well as a student Campus Compact and Principles of Responsible Conduct for faculty and staff. Penn Care’s goal is to encourage a collaborative comprehensive approach aimed at bringing the community together in the shared goal of keeping the campus and Philadelphia community healthy.

a person wearing a mask studying a tube inside of a massive tent
Colin Wells, Assistant Director for Facilities & Operations for Recreation, ensures that his sample contains the required amount of saliva for testing. 

For information on COVID-19, visit https://coronavirus.upenn.edu and follow @COVIDPenn on Twitter and Instagram.