Students and visitors urged to continue physical distancing, avoid groups

May 27, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Even as stay-at-home orders gradually lift in many Pennsylvania counties and businesses begin to partially reopen across the state, Penn State leaders remind students, employees and visitors that the governor’s plan maintains critical social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines to help prevent the spread of coronavirus on campuses and in their surrounding communities.   

All campus visitors are expected to follow the social distancing requirements in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s phased red-yellow-green reopening plan. While indoors or near others on campus, face masks must be worn and social distancing of at least six feet (approximately two arms’ lengths) is required between individuals who are not from the same household. Even as Pennsylvania counties turn green, this will continue to apply to employees who are approved to be on campus, and to students and visitors on any Penn State campus.

“Our campuses and local communities have done an extraordinary job of reducing the spread of the coronavirus,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “But we must remain vigilant. The shift to a green phase signals that a county has made good progress in its efforts to minimize the spread of the virus, but it is not a green light to stop employing those safety measures, as the impacts from this pandemic are far from over.”

The guidance urging individuals to practice social distancing, wear face masks, avoid large gatherings and campus landmarks, including the Lion Shrine, We Are statue or wall on Park Avenue, and others at Penn State campuses, will remain in effect, even as counties shift from yellow to green phase.

Public health continues to be the priority

“Until there is a vaccine or proven treatment for COVID-19, the only guard we have against widespread community transmission is our behavior,” said Matt Ferrari, associate professor of biology and co-chair of the University’s coronavirus Public Health and Science Assessment Task Group. “There are three simple steps each of us has to do if we are going to help mitigate the spread of the virus: Wear personal protective equipment or face masks, maintain social distancing of at least six feet from other individuals, and practice good personal hygiene by washing hands frequently with soap and water.”

Among a series of measures to encourage safe practices and prioritize the health of University and local community members, Penn State has communicated expectations around returning to campus, asked individuals to not visit campus landmarks with groups, placed signage reminding visitors to keep their distance and six-foot social distancing marks on sidewalks near campus landmarks; developed a thorough move-out plan to limit person-to-person interactions; closed most campus buildings and recreation centers; and canceled or postponed in-person events through June 30.

The health and safety of campus and local communities will continue to be the primary driver behind the University’s decision-making and policy changes.

Community responsibility

As part of their patrols, Penn State police may break up large gatherings and remind individuals to wear masks and socially distance, however, there is no enforcement mechanism; it is not a criminal offense to disregard the governor’s orders regarding masks, social distancing and large gatherings. It is up to each member of the community to do the right thing and be responsible for the health of the community. Even if an individual does not show signs of having contracted the virus, they may still infect others. Wearing a face mask and maintaining distance lessens the spread of COVID-19.

“Ultimately this comes down to personal responsibility,” Barron said. “In this pandemic, we’re responsible for protecting the health and well-being of the entire community, not only ourselves. Large gatherings could very likely spread the disease and cause the number of cases in our communities to spike, which could lead to further precautionary restrictions from state government.”

Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, added that the health and safety guidelines extend beyond campus, and students are expected to continue wearing masks, follow social distancing and avoid large gatherings when in local communities. Local businesses will enforce their own requirements on patrons and others.

“We’re thankful that many of our students have taken the coronavirus seriously and followed these guidelines,” Sims said. “We need to continue observing the guidance because they are showing to be valuable. Individuals who behave irresponsibly could reverse the progress that has been achieved.”

Community expectations

To protect the health of students and their families, employees and community members, the following are expectations for individuals when on campus:

  • Avoid congregating in large groups. Do not gather in groups, stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings.
  • Maintain physical distance between other people. Stay at least six feet from other people who do not live in the same household.
  • Wear a mask or face covering. Wearing a mask helps reduce community transmission, particularly from asymptomatic individuals. Covering your face protects other people. When other people wear masks, they are protecting you.
  • Avoid high-touch surfaces, especially those in public spaces. Please be aware that while every effort is made, building exteriors, benches, campus landmarks and popular spots on campus are not regularly cleaned or disinfected. Remain cautious.
  • Wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you’re sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance on how to protect yourself and others from the spread of coronavirus.

Despite the easing of restrictions in parts of Pennsylvania and beyond, people residing in areas under a stay-at-home order should not travel to a Penn State campus that has moved to a yellow or green phase. Penn State employees who can work remotely are expected to do so until further notice from the University of supervisors.

In addition, anyone who has had COVID-19 or has been exposed to the coronavirus should not visit any Penn State location until they have completed their 14-day self-quarantine period and have no further symptoms. Further, individuals with a temperature of 100.4 or above are not permitted on campus.

For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including an extensive FAQ and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit

Last Updated July 09, 2020