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Penn State Outlines Fall Departure Plans, Voluntary Testing Procedures

by on October 21, 2020 3:15 PM

Penn State will encourage voluntary COVID-19 testing and self-quarantine periods for students traveling home in November, the university announced Tuesday night.

Students will be required to leave their on-campus residences by 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22, before the university switches to remote learning following Thanksgiving, as previously planned. They won’t return in person until the spring semester begins the week of Jan. 18.

Penn State is once again partnering with Vault Health — which provided pre-arrival COVID-19 testing to about 22,000 students from high prevalence areas prior to the fall semester —  to offer free departure testing to anyone who requests it. Those tests will be administered either at predetermined testing sites around campus or through self-administered kits.

Students can begin booking in-person departure testing times on Friday, Nov. 6. Voluntary on-campus departure testing will take place Nov. 12-19 at University Park.

The university is advising students to be tested at least three days before they’re set to leave to allow enough turnaround time for their results to come back.

“We urge our students to test during this departure window so that we have a test on record for everyone,” Kelly Wolgast, director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center, said. “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.”

The university will provide more details on University Park and Commonwealth Campus departure testing in the coming weeks.

Additionally, Penn State is “strongly encouraging” students to self-quarantine as much as possible leading up to the conclusion of in-person instruction on Nov. 20.

“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,” according to a release.

Penn State’s quarantine and isolation spaces at Eastview Terrace will remain open after Nov. 20 for students who need it. The university also will continue notifying close contact of affected individuals “in the interest of public health.”

“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,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “Those identified in the contact tracing process also need to manage their quarantine appropriately.”

Penn State will pause on-demand and surveillance COVID-19 testing between Nov. 21 and 29. It will resume once classes start back up on Nov. 30.

Concerned by potential virus spread, Penn State administrators are also asking students to refrain from unnecessary travel as much as possible once they return home.

“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.”

Although students are required to leave their dorms by Nov. 22, university housing staff will work with students who may need to remain in on-campus housing through the break.

While preparing to leave, students are encouraged to stagger departures with roommates and limit themselves to one companion to assist with move-out. The university is asking them to bring home any necessary belongings, as the dorms won’t be accessible until the spring semester begins in January.

Although the switch to remote learning for the end of the fall semester may be difficult, Penn State is imploring students and their families to remain vigilant to keep things running smoothly.

“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,” Barron said. “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.”

Penn State will return to in-person instruction when the spring semester begins in January. The university won’t observe a traditional spring break and instead will implement an undetermined number of non-instructional days to give students and faculty a break of their own.

Matt DiSanto is a Penn State student and writer for Onward State.
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