University shares fall departure plan for transition to remote instruction

October 20, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State has announced procedures and assistance available to students for the fall departure from campuses, as well as COVID-19 testing and quarantine and isolation procedures after in-person instruction ends on Nov. 20.

“The University is mindful of the risks associated with someone who is COVID-19-positive leaving our campus communities and traveling to other locations,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “This is especially important for students who may be returning to families that have potentially vulnerable individuals and are therefore concerned about exposure in the time leading up to Thanksgiving. We will direct testing resources and provide recommendations for self-quarantine to support students in planning for safe departures.”  

For students who may test positive when planning for departure, the University will continue to make isolation space and support available so they can return safely to their families in their home communities. 

“We need everyone — students, faculty, staff and local community members — to do their part in an effort to continue to curtail disease spread on and near Penn State campuses, as well as beyond our borders, before and during the remote period,” said Barron. “In order to return to our campuses in the spring, we need to minimize viral spread. It may start to feel monotonous to hear, but the most important steps to take are really simple: double down on our efforts in masking, social distancing, hand-washing and avoiding large gatherings.”

Departure testing

The University is continuing to partner with Vault Health to offer free departure testing, which will be conducted either in person at predetermined testing sites on certain campuses or via self-administered kits.

Students can begin booking appointments for in-person testing times beginning Nov. 6, where available. Voluntary on-campus departure testing will be offered from Nov. 12 through Nov. 19 at University Park and Nov. 16 through Nov. 18 at the Commonwealth Campuses. 

“We urge our students to test during this departure window so that we have a test on record for everyone. Students who have tested positive in the 90 days prior to planned departure in November and who have completed the appropriate isolation time do not need to retest before leaving from a campus location,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of the COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “Testing in November is part of a two-part testing effort that will continue in January before returning for spring semester.”

Departure testing for the Commonwealth Campuses will be delivered through either on-site testing or the distribution of self-test kits. The details for University Park and each of the Commonwealth Campuses will be finalized and communicated shortly.

For those individuals who will use self-test kits, they will include detailed instructions to complete the test with a Vault Health representative virtually and drop off the kit at a designated campus collection site for courier pickup. 

Students should plan to be tested at least three days prior to their planned departure to allow for test delivery and processing times. The turnaround time for results will be approximately 48 hours from the time a specimen is received at the lab; Vault Health will be picking up and transporting tests from Penn State campuses to its facility in New Jersey on a daily basis during the testing timeframe.

Quarantine and isolation

The University is strongly encouraging students to take extra precautions and carefully follow all health requirements and guidelines in the week leading up to Thanksgiving break. While students should continue with their normal class routines, to minimize viral spread during that week students are urged to be even more vigilant and continue to follow all masking and social distancing requirements, minimize interactions with others outside of their roommates or “pod,” avoid large gatherings, and self-quarantine as much as possible leading up to Nov. 20 or their planned departure date. 

Additionally, Penn State’s quarantine and isolation space at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses will continue to be available after Nov. 20 for students who need to quarantine or isolate over the Thanksgiving break or after courses resume remotely on Nov. 30. This includes students who test positive for COVID-19 through the University’s voluntary departure testing process and will need to isolate prior to leaving campus, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The University will continue to notify close contacts of infected individuals after Nov. 20 in the interest of public health. 

Students who are identified as needing to isolate or quarantine on or before Nov. 20 are strongly encouraged to complete their isolation or quarantine period on campus or in another suitable single-occupancy space off campus before they leave for Thanksgiving break and remote learning. Penn State will continue all contact tracing efforts with any student who tests positive during the departure time as well as throughout the Thanksgiving break and into December.  

“To keep our students from unknowingly carrying the virus with them back home to their parents and others, we need students who test positive to properly manage their condition and preferably complete their isolation period on or near their campus before any travel. Those identified in the contact tracing process also need to manage their quarantine appropriately,” said Barron. 

Walk-up and surveillance testing

The University’s testing protocols for students and employees, which include walk-up testing and random surveillance testing, will continue through Nov. 20. There will be no surveillance or walk-up testing from Nov. 21-29. However, the University will be prepared to support students with health services for those who remain on campuses over the Thanksgiving week. More specifics for each campus will follow.  

Thanksgiving travel

“We are also asking students’ families to refrain from traveling to Penn State campus communities to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday,” Barron said. “This is critical in helping Pennsylvania and other states to mitigate viral spread.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” The CDC provides a list of low-, moderate- and high-risk activities associated with Thanksgiving on its website.

Campus departure and the transition to remote learning

As students prepare to leave for Thanksgiving break, they are advised to take any belongings they will need for the remainder of the year until the start of the spring semester, including books, notes, instruments, sports gear, computers, mobile devices, charging/power cords, appropriate weather/season apparel and amount of clothing, medications, plants and other key personal items. Students who are not planning on returning to campus for the spring semester should plan to completely remove all personal belongings. Students will not be permitted to return to their residence halls until the start of the spring semester.

Students living at University Park must leave their on-campus residence by 4 p.m. on Nov. 22. Students living in on-campus housing at the Commonwealth Campuses must depart by 4 p.m. on Nov. 21. As in past years, the University will work with students who may need to remain in on-campus housing through Thanksgiving break and beyond. 

Students should coordinate with their roommate to leave at different times. This will help to promote social distancing while also reducing campus traffic congestion typically associated with semester departures. Details about move out and how to request housing during the Thanksgiving break, remote learning period, and/or winter break will be sent directly to students’ emails. 

To minimize foot traffic on campus and help mitigate virus transmission both within campus communities and in students’ home communities, only one individual should travel to pick up a student and assist with move out. When possible, that individual should stay outside or remain in their vehicle until the student arrives with their belongings. Those picking up students will be required to follow Penn State protocols and local ordinances for masking and social distancing. 

Campus departure and the transition to remote learning will vary from campus to campus depending on the size and makeup of the campus’ student populations, i.e., resident vs. commuter. In the coming weeks, the University will provide additional campus-specific guidance to students and their families, as well as requirements and guidelines for departing campus communities and returning to them. 

Faculty members also will be sharing information with students directly about processes and procedures for concluding the in-person portion of the fall semester, in preparation for the transition to remote learning following Thanksgiving break. Penn State will hold a remote symposium via Zoom from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, to help instructors prepare for the planned transition to remote instruction. Students and their families should check their email and for additional instructions leading up to Nov. 20, as further information about the end of the semester, finals and the transition to fully remote learning is forthcoming. 

During the Thanksgiving break and after, the University will maintain enforcement of its masking and social distancing policies. 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

Last Updated November 18, 2020