Students surveyed weekly on quarantine and isolation experiences at Penn State

October 29, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As students complete quarantine and isolation as part of the University’s layered approach to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on its campuses, they are being surveyed to collect feedback about their experiences and to inform ongoing improvements in services and processes.

With a total response rate of more than 32%, student feedback indicates overall satisfaction with quarantine and isolation. The Quarantine/Isolation Experience Survey is sent weekly to all students at University Park after they complete their on-campus quarantine or isolation requirement that is part of Penn State’s protocols for those who contract COVID-19 or have been in close contact with another person with COVID-19. Recently, students at Penn State Altoona and Behrend have also been surveyed and those results are being reviewed.

The survey provides vital feedback on the University’s efforts to aid students who are quarantining or isolating on campus, including through meals and snacks, delivery and concierge services, laundry services, check-ins with support staff, academic support, and access to virtual wellness and mental health services. While the survey captures data about the on-campus experience, support services and resources also are available for students who quarantine or isolate off campus.

“Quarantine and isolation are difficult situations for anyone, and especially those who are really feeling the effects of the virus. We know that it is not inherently an experience that people enjoy, and we want to know how we can make that experience better — even if only in small ways,” said Adam Christensen, director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment. “What we have found to date, is that the majority of students have indicated they are satisfied with their overall experience. We’re pleased to see upward trends in important areas like food services, communication, and experience during quarantine and isolation where we’ve made changes specifically based on student feedback.”

Each week, a group of staff members from across the University, including Housing and Food Services, Student Affairs, Student Support Services, Residence Life, and others, meet to analyze survey data, discuss student feedback and brainstorm new ideas to implement that will make a student’s time in isolation and quarantine less taxing and more satisfactory.

“Our priority is to do all that we can to support students and their mental, emotional and physical well-being through this challenging time,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs. “The feedback of students who have recently completed their quarantine or isolation period is incredibly useful and important as we continuously work to make the experience as comfortable as possible and to improve the situation for other students. It is imperative that those who test positive or are identified during the contact tracing process complete their isolation and quarantine period. The health and safety of the broader campus and community depend on it.”

Student feedback

The confidential survey asks students a variety of questions about their levels of satisfaction (on a scale of “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied”) with topics such as accommodations, cleanliness, food services, support from staff, and more. The following feedback is from the 6-week period between Sept. 7 to Oct. 23. Certain numbers vary by week as new initiatives are put in place.

  • Accommodations (“very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied”):
    • Cleanliness upon arrival: 86.5%
    • Comfort of the room: 65.5% (trending up in recent weeks)
    • Availability of supplies like toiletries and linens: 69% (trending up in recent weeks)
    • Cleanliness of linens and bedding: 78.2% (trending up in recent weeks)
  • Food services (“very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied”):
    • Meal delivery times each day: 80%
    • Quantity of food per meal: 67.8%
    • Overall quality of food: 38.7%
    • Accommodations for dietary restrictions: 67.7% (trending up in recent weeks)
    • Communication of meal delivery schedule: 69.8%
  • Experience before beginning quarantine/isolation (“very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied”):
    • Instructions on how to get to their quarantine/isolation room on campus: 65.4%
    • Communication/instructions for the overall quarantine/isolation process: 54.6%
    • Travel assistance to their quarantine/isolation room: 40% (trending up in recent weeks)
    • Communication of available support/resources for physical needs: 61% (trending up in recent weeks)
    • Communication of available support/resources for their mental health and emotional needs: 55.6%
  • Experience during quarantine/isolation
    • Speediness of staff in responding to needs: 76%
    • Helpfulness of staff: 78.6%
    • Availability of resources for their overall health: 57.4% (trending up in recent weeks)

Mental, emotional and physical wellness

“Prioritizing your mental and emotional health is so important, especially during quarantine and isolation,” said Andrea Dowhower, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “Support and virtual activities are available to encourage students to stay occupied, be physically active and to continue to socialize with friends and peers remotely.”

A range of free, virtual offerings compiled by the Office of Residence Life are available for students to participate in nearly every day with a focus on health and wellness, including daily live fitness classes; yoga and meditation; on-demand virtual fitness classes curated in a YouTube playlist; virtual escape room activities; group discussions about stress management; Well-being Wednesday interactive activities; Wellness Trivia about campus resources; and live music streamed every Friday at noon.

The Student Support Services staff reach out to students regularly to assist with a variety of needs and to provide general support, including connecting students with additional resources that will support their physical and mental well-being.

Resources and information about accessing emotional and mental health services through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are provided to students before beginning quarantine and isolation, as well as throughout their stay. For example, students are being referred to a new service provided by CAPS that offers on-demand emotional support through real-time coach chats and self-guided activities available 24/7.

For those who need support, the full range of CAPS services are available to students remotely, including individual counseling through telehealth appointments, and the following:

  • YOU@PSU: Sign up to manage your mental health and personal development goals in a personalized, confidential environment
  • WellTrack: Interactive, self-help therapy
  • Online Mental Health Screening: An anonymous, online screening that provides key information about factors of your mental health
  • CAPS Chat: Free, virtual consultations with CAPS counselors
  • CAPS Virtual Library: A video library that offers support on a variety of health topics
  • Life Hacks at Home: Presentations led by CAPS clinicians about coping strategies for decreasing stress and increasing well-being

Ongoing changes

Staff members are using student feedback as a measure of what’s going well and to pinpoint where improvements can be made, which are being implemented when solutions are available. 

For example, satisfaction regarding students’ experiences during quarantine and isolation is trending higher in the areas of helpfulness and speediness of staff responding to needs, frequency of contact regarding both physical and mental health needs, and availability of health-related resources following changes made in scheduling, training and staff volunteering.

Survey feedback indicated students wanted additional communications about resources and processes before their stay. Over the past several weeks, satisfaction rates have risen steadily as the team increased the number of communications sent to students, including what to pack, what accommodations are provided, photos and room layouts, housing rules, meal delivery, concierge services, printing services, on-demand mental health services, medical support, academic success support, transportation, check-in and check-out procedures, and more.

As the weather gets colder, the team has also worked with Transportation Services to implement new travel assistance and options for students entering and leaving quarantine and isolation.

In addition, the Food Services culinary team continue to enhance daily menus to accommodate a wide variety of students’ preferences, dietary needs and food allergies. Wellness Meals, consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner are delivered twice daily to students, along with inspirational messages from student groups. In response to feedback, the team has made changes to increase daily email communications to students regarding food service times and menu items and contact information for those with questions, procure new products, provide more variety and choice, add coffee to daily breakfast, and develop menus with additional vegan and allergen-free choices, among other changes.

With support from staff volunteers from across Penn State, the team also developed and launched on-demand Concierge Services at University Park to enable students to have additional variety and choice by having items from local restaurants, food delivery services and stores delivered directly to their rooms.

For additional information about testing, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation, visit virusinfo.psu.edu.

Last Updated October 29, 2020