As the fall semester approaches, Penn is introducing additional measures to create a safe work and study environment. The University’s main goal during the return to campus is safeguarding the health and safety of its community. Until COVID-19 no longer presents a significant risk to public health, Penn leadership will be asking the University community to follow evolving health and safety plans.
With the Penn community’s well-being foremost in mind, and to maintain a safe environment during the systematic transition to on-campus work, the University’s Recovery Planning Group, Workforce Operations Committee (WOC), has published the “COVID-19 Return to Campus Guide for Penn Faculty and Staff.”
“Protecting public health is so important to Penn that we sent this guide and a face covering directly to faculty and staff members,” Heuer says.
In the mail, in the coming days, University staff and faculty can expect to receive the guide and a 100% cotton 2-ply face covering with the Penn logo.
All faculty and staff are expected to fully comply with the policies, protocols, and guidelines in the document, which can be found on the Human Resources website.
“The situation can change day-to-day and there are still some unknowns,” Heuer says. “To provide faculty and staff with the latest policies, the online return-to-work guide will be updated as CDC, Commonwealth, and City public health guidelines are revised.”
“This guide is the product of a number of meetings with a committee of 20 people representing different areas on campus,” Perna says. “We all came together to talk about and understand the various different issues involved in bringing faculty and staff back to campus safely.”
Perna hopes the guide is a signal of ways in which the University is trying to anticipate the needs and concerns of staff and faculty.
“Many of us have been working from home for a number of weeks, and the prospect of going back to campus can be a little daunting,” she says. “The face coverings are important to the health and safety of our community as we come back to campus. We wanted to make sure everyone has a face covering as they begin to think about coming back.”
Perna says the decision to mail face coverings was made to help reduce the anxiety and remind everyone to practice basic precautions—hand hygiene, physical distancing, and face coverings—in any shared public space. Everyone entering University buildings is required to follow these practices, according to HR.
“We are all in this together and wearing a face covering is how we will be participating in our community,” Perna says. “We have a responsibility to keep each other safe. It is to help all of us adapt to this current time we are in. We have to be taking these necessary steps.”
Heuer outlines the current three-phase return-to-campus plan.
“The three-phased approach keeps population density under control in Penn buildings as we return to campus,” he says. “It lets us make sure we have the appropriate number of people in each workspace to support research and education operations while allowing those people to maintain safe physical distancing.”
The return to campus for faculty and staff will be carefully controlled and coordinated to reduce potential risks and ensure the safety of all employees, as well as the communities Penn serves. Penn will phase in a return of faculty and staff to ensure appropriate physical distancing and availability of personal protective equipment.
“This is a big university with a lot of different components,” Perna says. “The different phases are about thinking about how we can safely bring people back to campus in different areas.”
Phase 1: Those whose jobs can only be performed on campus. They will be relatively few in number and will help test and refine procedures and practices to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Population density restrictions will be enforced.
Phase 2: Increase to the numbers of those reporting to campus. More people will return to campus, in positions where they need to report to campus to complete certain tasks; other tasks can still be done remotely.
Phase 3: Telework will continue to be utilized where possible. Faculty and staff who do not need to be onsite to perform their job functions may be able to return to campus if they wish and their school or center leadership conclude it is safe and desirable to do so.
The University is moving into Phase 2 of returning staff to campus after limited operations went into effect in March. While most staff members will continue working remotely for the foreseeable future, onsite work is increasing to support vital research activity and prepare for the fall term.
The guide also details Penn’s additional requirements and information, such as symptoms checking, training, staggered work schedules, travel advisories, time away from work policies, and support resources.
As new information becomes available and the public health situation evolves, the online Return to Campus Guide will be updated to reflect the latest University guidelines as directed by the Recovery Planning Group. The WOC continues to consult with Penn Wellness, school and center representatives, and peer institutions to ensure these guidelines are based on the latest established workplace safety and public health best practices, as well as local, state, and federal guidance.
“This is a booklet that lays out information and guidelines that we have had to date,” Perna says. “But certainly this is an evolving situation, and there will be additional refinements as things continue to change with regards to the coronavirus. The key principle here is the interest in developing some guidelines that are going to keep people safe.”
Faculty and staff should not return to campus unless their supervisor or dean directs them to do so. Perna says those scheduled to return should follow instructions for symptom checking, hygiene, physical distancing, and face coverings.
“We are asking people to check for symptoms every day,” she says. “People should be free of symptoms before they come back to Penn buildings. Coming back to campus involves physical distancing, staying out of crowded spaces, really paying attention to our space between each other, frequent hand washings, and wearing face coverings in all shared spaces and public areas.”
Perna reminds all that there are resources available through HR for those who may feel anxiety as they return to on-campus work, such as the Employee Assistance Program.
“Faculty and staff should reach out to their supervisors and deans if they have questions,” she says. “We are all trying to figure this out together and get through it together.”