Penn State's Reopening Plan Includes Mandatory Testing, 'Coronavirus Compact'

Mark Wogenrich

Penn State will require 30,000 students, faculty and staff members who live in high-case areas to undergo COVID-19 testing before returning to campus in August. That is one part of the university's reopening plan that also includes a "Coronavirus Compact" students must sign.

Penn State President Eric Barron explained the return process Thursday during a virtual town hall that highlighted several key points. Returning students will be expected to self-quarantine for seven days prior to returning to campus. The fall semester is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

Students and staff also will be subject to random surveillance testing during the semester. Penn State said it plans to test 1 percent of its campus populations daily based on random and "risk-stratified surveillance" methods.

And before returning to campus, 30,000 students and staff members who live in what Penn State called infection "hot spots" must undergo COVID-19 testing. Barron said that the university will select the students and staff from zip codes where infection rates are considered high or rising. Those who test positive will not be able to return to campus until cleared medically.

"From the beginning, our top priority has been the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students,” Barron said. "Our faculty, staff and health experts across various disciplines at the university have developed a comprehensive plan and set of protocols that include testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals and a detailed contact tracing plan. We have established a comprehensive strategy, including ongoing surveillance of data trends and advanced predictive modeling, that will continue to inform our return to campus strategy and future steps."

Further, Penn State will ask students and staff to sign what it calls a "Coronavirus Compact," a document that summarizes requirements for mask-wearing, distancing and restricted travel. Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs, said during the town hall that the university will provide students and staff with two masks each.

In addition, Penn State will organize a student group of "health and safety ambassadors" to remind fellow students of the requirements.

Sims said that students who do not adhere to the precautions could face summary suspension and be asked to leave campus.

"The compact is really going to be the clearest expression of what is required in the most straightforward way," Sims said. "It is also an expression of the fact that we are all in this together."

Penn State's reopening process will impact whether the fall sports season can continue as scheduled. Penn State's athletic department announced Wednesday that eight student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19. All eight positive tests were returned in the past two weeks.

As a reminder, Penn State's athletic department said, "We expect our student-athletes to follow CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands regularly and not gathering in large groups."

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