Phase II of research resumption expands on-campus activities

An update about the second of Penn’s three-part reopening of research with Vice Provost for Research Dawn Bonnell.

two people walking in front of the david rittenhouse laboratory building
Penn is now in the second of a three-part phased reopening of research activities, bringing back additional researchers to campus while still relying on social distancing, mask wearing, and overall density reduction. 

On July 13, Penn moved into the second of a three-part reopening of on-campus research activities. As faculty, staff, and students slowly and safely resume their work across campus, Penn Today spoke with Vice Provost for Research Dawn Bonnell for an update on lessons learned from Phase I and how Penn is enabling more research to be conducted on campus in a safe and responsible manner.

How did lessons learned during the first phase help inform the second phase of the research reopening?

Phase I was very effective in helping us identify gaps in the reopening process. For example, there was congestion at the entrances of buildings at certain times of the day, certain areas with missing signage, and some misunderstanding about when to use masks. Starting out with a smaller number of people during Phase I allowed us to establish all of the procedures, protocols, signage, and infrastructure for a safe resumption of on-campus research activities. 

What’s different now during Phase II?

In Phase I, we had 20% of density compared to normal, and now, since our protocols are in place, Phase II allows us to increase the density to 50% compared to normal, as long as physical distancing can be maintained. There are also social science human subject studies that are now starting as well as some field work. 

How have existing spaces on campus re-shaped to accommodate for physical distancing?

People are altering shared spaces across campus, such as reducing the number of chairs or using spaces such as conference rooms for eating, as well as facilitating the use of certain outdoor spaces by setting up additional tables and chairs. Overall, though, we still want as many people to be remote as possible because we want folks who need to be on campus to be able to physically distance. 

How has compliance with social distancing and mask wearing been so far?

Our surveys show that 99.9% of respondents say that compliance occurs always or most of the time, and that’s good. 

However, we do know that there is spotty and occasional non-compliance, especially with regards to proper mask use, so we are now working on putting up more signage in buildings with instructions on how to use masks property. We are also communicating through various pathways on the importance of wearing masks to the health of our community. 

We have multiple mechanisms for people to report non-compliance, and we follow up on those non-compliance reports quickly. 

the side entrance to the Towne building with a sign saying entranced closed
In addition to a new one-way system of entrances and exits, researchers returning to campus are required to use the Penn Open Pass to gain access to research facilities. 

How do researchers access buildings on campus?

The PennOpen Pass is being rolled out across campus, and in September undergraduate students will use it in order to access buildings. It’s a very quick and easy symptom questionnaire that takes 10 seconds to complete. If you have no symptoms, you get a green pass, and you can have that on your phone or print it out to be able to get access to buildings. If you do have symptoms, you get a red pass, and you will receive advice on who to call for next steps. 

How are graduate students and postdocs being supported?

Phase II is still opt in, which means that participation of graduate students and postdocs in research on campus is voluntary, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that they have the resources they need to complete their research. There’s also been a change in policy that allows postdocs to have an extension. Postdocs are generally limited to five-year appointments, but now that’s extended to allow an additional year. 

Are there plans in place in the event that on-campus activities need to be ramped down again?

The fact that we so rapidly and effectively were able to ramp down in the first place means that those plans can be followed if the situation requires. It would be very damaging to research progress to shut down again, and I expect that we would find ways to be safe and not shut down to that level.  

In addition to their ongoing studies and experiments, how are Penn researchers involved in efforts to learn more about the novel coronavirus?

Penn has really been at the forefront of research on COVID. For treatments, vaccines, testing strategies, and as leaders on public health and health disparity initiatives, Penn has been right out there pushing the frontiers. There’s a tremendous amount of COVID research and many researchers have been able to pivot to the topic from a variety of perspectives.

For additional guidance, training, forms, and to submit any questions or concerns related to on-campus research activities, visit

For more information, visit, the University’s dedicated COVID-19 website, for news, preventive health, and travel advisories.