Random surveillance testing begins for Penn State students, employees

August 21, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of a layered detection and mitigation approach, Penn State will begin on Aug. 24 to conduct a randomized COVID-19 surveillance testing program University-wide to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus and monitor the prevalence of COVID-19 across all campuses. The University will perform daily testing of at least 1% of the student, faculty and staff population across Penn State’s campuses. 

The plan for asymptomatic surveillance, which was first shared during a University town hall in July, is part of a comprehensive strategy that focuses on testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, a daily symptom checker for students and employees, contact tracing, ongoing surveillance of data trends, and predictive modeling to inform the University’s return to campus, necessary mitigation efforts and future steps. 

Except for Penn College, all Penn State campuses will be included, including Dickinson Law and College of Nursing and College of Medicine students at Hershey.

Students and employees who are learning, working or living on campus will be selected randomly and contacted by email and text message to answer a few screening questions and to schedule an appointment at University Park or to participate in their campus location’s specific surveillance process. If selected, students and employees are required to complete the free testing and should plan to do so within 48-72 hours after being contacted. Students who don’t participate will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and employees will be referred to Human Resources.

“COVID-19 surveillance is a necessary and critical part of our strategy designed to keep our community healthy and to watch for signs of the virus on our campuses,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of the University’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “One hundred percent participation is important as we seek to mitigate the spread of the virus. It is imperative that everyone who is selected for surveillance complete the process so that we can then proactively mitigate the consequences of a positive COVID-19 result, and ultimately for the overall health of our entire community.”

At University Park, the asymptomatic surveillance will be conducted via a combination of diagnostic tests from the University's testing vendors and pooled sampling at the new Testing and Surveillance Center. Collection of samples will take place at designated areas across campus, including the Bryce Jordan Center, Eisenhower Auditorium, Greenberg Complex, Willard Building and Biobehavioral Health Building, among others. More information on locations will be provided in the coming days.

At the Commonwealth Campuses, students and employees will complete their surveillance requirements following the specific surveillance plan that has been developed for their campus, which could take place at an on-campus collection site or through a delivered testing kit depending on a campus community’s unique needs.

“By randomly selecting a proportion of asymptomatic students, faculty and staff members from across the University to test, we will be able to monitor changes in disease prevalence throughout our campuses, identify trends and take steps to address a possible outbreak in a particular group or location before it occurs,” Wolgast said. “Students and employees who are selected to participate are playing a valuable role in helping to support the health and well-being of the broader campus and local community.”

Depending on outcomes, the University will adjust the number of daily surveillance needs and could increase surveillance beyond 1% of students, faculty and staff. Throughout the semester, students and employees may be randomly selected to participate more than once. 

The University will use aggregated results to inform a campus’ overall strategy and will report individuals’ positive test results to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which is a state requirement. As part of the state and University’s contact tracing process, students and employees who test positive will be contacted by the University and/or the Pennsylvania Department of Health to begin the process of contact tracing and isolation.

“Conducting asymptomatic surveillance provides us with the opportunity to detect cases in people who may not feel ill, which is a critical step to reduce the spread of disease,” said Cara Exten, assistant professor of nursing who is leading the surveillance effort. “The program will allow us to have a more complete understanding of the rates of infection in our community, which will ultimately enable us to respond more effectively.”   

While students and employees should follow the specific instructions they receive from their campus, the following information provides a general overview of the process:

  • Students and employees who are selected will receive an email and a text message from “PSU COVID Surveillance Program” to their Penn State email address, secondary email address on file and cellphone on file.
  • Using the link provided in the email/text message, individuals should answer a few screening questions and schedule an appointment date, time and location from the options provided. (If testing for your campus will happen via a delivered test kit or another method, please follow the instructions provided to you.)
  • Once scheduled, students and employees will receive an appointment confirmation via email and text message, along with two reminder notifications. If necessary, students and employees can reschedule an appointment using the link in their email/text message.
  • On appointment day, students and employees should arrive at the collection site on time, bring their Penn State ID and wear a face mask. For those who arrive on time, the process is expected to take about 15 minutes.
  • After checking in at the collection location, students and employees will complete the process with help from staff who will provide instructions for collecting the sample.

After completing the appointment, students and employees will receive their results from the University. Those who test positive will be provided guidance on next steps, should begin isolation and will be required to participate in the University’s contact tracing process. The University will maintain an individual’s privacy regarding their health status to every degree possible and will only share the information as needed in accordance with applicable law and as appropriate to help meet the individual’s needs or if there is a concern for the health and safety of the campus community.

For the latest updates and information on Penn State’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including frequently asked questions and information specific for students, faculty and staff, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.

Last Updated August 27, 2020