• FAQs


1. When will this start?

Phase 1 will start June 8, 2020. This start date may change, based on the guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


2. Can we re-open campus if Pennsylvania’s stay at home order is still in effect?

Yes. Lab research is deemed an essential activity, so campus labs may re-open before the stay at home order is lifted.


3. What is the process for returning to campus?

Faculty, staff, students and postdocs will be required to ‘opt-in’ for returning to campus during this phase. Applications for returning to campus will be reviewed and approved by Penn Engineering leadership. Applicants may be approved, modified, or denied.


4. Is this process voluntary?

Yes. We expect telework to continue as the most common mode of working on your research projects. However, we recognize that work may need to occur on campus to maintain research progress. Phase 1 of research resuming on campus is designed to support the on-campus activities that are necessary for progress towards completing your degree (PhD, MS student), in your research training (postdoctoral fellow), or on your research program (faculty, staff).


5. What is Penn Engineering doing to create a safe workplace and training environment in this Phase?

Penn Engineering is collaborating with University housekeeping to increase the frequency and depth of cleaning throughout the engineering complex. Labs will be supplied with disinfecting solution and wipes to keep surfaces clean throughout the day. Anyone on campus in the engineering complex will be required to wear a surgical mask, maintain physical distancing, and will be approved to access campus facilities for only the work that cannot be done remotely. We will have hand sanitizers available at the entry point and throughout the building.


6. Will you be screening people that enter the engineering buildings?

Yes. Using current guidelines, we will require each person to register at an entry point each time they visit campus. We will require each person to answer a short series of questions, and we will likely check temperatures. These procedures may change over time as the university learns new, more effective procedures to limit the spread of the virus.


7. Will you be providing masks to wear while I am in engineering?

Yes. We will provide surgical masks to each person that accesses the engineering buildings. These masks will be provided at no cost. Visitors will be required to dispose of these masks as they leave the building.


8. Will you provide safe spots for me to eat while I am on campus?

Yes. We will provide open areas that are designated eating areas. These areas, if inside the buildings, will be at a density that exceeds social distancing requirements. In addition, we will open up outside areas for eating, where we will provide physical distancing guidelines.


9. Can I return once to campus, to pick up items I left at my office/desk/lab?

Yes. We will arrange for you to pick up items on a date a few days after Phase I begins. A Request for a One-time Visit form is being developed. To arrange a pickup, you will be required to submit the Request for a One-time Visit form. You should expect to be provided with an approval within one week of submitting the form and a time window for your one-time return to campus, You will need to proceed through screening procedures described above.


10. Will you be requiring COVID-19 disease testing for staff and trainees that return for Phase 1?

No. We will not require COVID-19 disease testing prior to returning to campus. However, we will adhere to recommended CDC guidelines for COVID-19 disease testing, which may change over time (current guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html). At this time, viral testing and antibody testing should be done after consulting with your healthcare provider. If you are unsure about whether your symptoms are consistent with COVID-19 disease infection, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provides guidance on the symptoms and steps to take if you are concerned that you are infected with the virus: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Symptoms-Testing.aspx


11. Is there an oversight process in place to maintain the safe environment established at the beginning of Phase 1?

Yes. We have created a Covid-19 Research and Academic Safety Reporting that is composed of faculty, staff, postdocs, and students to provide a reporting mechanism to School leadership. Anyone can approach a member of this committee and report unsafe or coercion practices in any part of Penn Engineering. We define coercive practices as any perceived threat (intentional or unintentional) from a supervisor or peer to influence an individuals selection to opt-in or to operate in a manner outside of the guidelines for social distancing and PPE, or work hours that are not comfortable to the individual.

The anonymized report will be presented to School and University leadership, investigated, and corrective actions will be taken. Actions will be reported to the Watchdog Committee chair.


12. Is there any formal training that is required before I come back to campus?

Yes. Penn Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) developed a set of guidelines for the campus in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission: https://ehrs.upenn.edu/covid-19. People returning to campus are strongly encouraged to review the information on best practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on campus. In addition, every person returning to campus must complete a mandatory, online COVID-19 training module through Penn Knowledge Link. This training module must be completed by June 5 to gain access to campus by June 8. Your PI needs to assign the training to you via Penn Knowledge Link. Once assigned, this will appear in your Knowledge Link profile.


13. Will Penn Engineering require contact tracing of all individuals in Phase 1?

Yes. Penn will continue its practice of contact tracing that was in place during the Spring 2020 semester. This is currently a manual contact tracing process, where a SARS-CoV-2 positive individual is interviewed by a health care worker, and people in contact with this individual are notified. The identity of the infected individual is not shared in any communication by the University. The purpose is to alert individuals they may be at risk for SARS-Cov2 infection. Current guidelines for quarantine after close contact with an individual that test positive for SARS-CoV-2 are found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine-isolation.html

At this time, Penn does not require any form of digital contact tracing. However, we are continually reviewing new digital methods, and may adopt a form of digital tracing that can ensure privacy protection in the future.


14. What happens if someone on campus for Phase 1 is infected with SARS-CoV-2 ?

As mentioned above, the individual is asked to identify people and places visited during the period in which they were infectious. Manual tracing efforts will communicate the risk of infection to people who were in contact with this individual.


15. I work in a lab outside of Penn Engineering. Do I apply to return with Engineering, or with the school associated with my research lab?

Please fill out the Penn Engineering form. Engineering will communicate your election to opt-in and your justification with your PI’s school. You may also be asked to fill out additional forms as required by the school/organization affiliated with your PI.


16. If standards for re-entry and working in the lab vary across schools or institutes, which standards should I adhere to?

You should follow the more stringent standards. When in doubt, consult with your PI, other lab members, your graduate program chair or the Associate Dean for Graduate Education (Dr. Boon Thau Loo).


17. If I return to campus and, after a few days on campus, would like to return to working remotely, can I do that?

Yes. We ask that you inform us of your decision. If you later decide to return to campus, we will require that you notify us of your decision again. If your scope of activities in the future will change after your return, we ask that you inform us about these changes before coming back to campus.


18. Is there a good website that explains the different COVID-19 resources available for a member of the Penn community?

Yes. The University developed a website for announcements and policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic (https://coronavirus.upenn.edu/). The Office of the Vice Provost for Research developed a website for resuming research, in phases, over the next several months (https://research.upenn.edu/resources/resumption/ ). Penn Medicine created and maintains a website on health information related to COVID-19: https://www.pennmedicine.org/coronavirus. Penn Engineering also developed websites for COVID-19 disease resources (https://www.seas.upenn.edu/coronavirus/). Information is updated regularly on each website, including this website.


19. How is Phase 1 different than now?

Currently we are in an essential activities stage, where the on-campus activities are limited to continuing research that is either directly related to COVID-19 or is necessary to continue research that would take several months or years to restart, if we shut down research completely. An example of the former is developing a new face shield. An example of the latter is maintaining a transgenic mouse colony, which would take more than a year to re-derive. In this essential activities phase, we are limiting buildings to <10% occupancy at any time.


Phase 1 expands to restart on-campus research activities with strict physical distancing guidelines. This is the beginning of on-campus research activities to maintain progress towards degree requirements, completing research training, and conducting research on funded research grants. Phase 1 is limited to 20% occupancy at any time throughout buildings on campus. To reduce density, we strongly encourage shift work in research labs, with enough time between shifts to allow for cleaning of the areas. In addition, analysis, writing and research meetings should continue to occur remotely during Phase 1.


2o. I am not certain if my situation qualifies for a Phase 1 activity. I need some guidance. What should I do?

You have two options. First, you can send an email to the Associate Dean of Research (adro@seas.upenn.edu), asking for guidance and explaining your situation. They will respond within 24 hours. Second, we developed a Watchdog Committee in Penn Engineering for this and subsequent research phases – you may approach any member of this committee to relay questions or concerns. They will report these to senior leadership.


21. Should I continue to telework during Phase 1?

Yes. Working remotely continues to be the default work model in Phase 1.


22. I can do all of my work from home, but I would like to return to campus once during Phase 1 to pick up items that I need to continue my research from home. Can I do that?

Yes, we will arrange for people to return to campus once or twice after we enter Phase 1. We are planning this with our engineering facilities team.


23. I do not want to return to campus because I am uncomfortable with the health risks. What should I do?

Returning to campus during Phase 1 is voluntary. You are not obligated to return. If you return, you must apply and receive approval to return.


24. Is there any estimate of when we will enter Phase 2 and Phase 3?

We have no timetable for entering subsequent phases of the research resumption plan. We expect to monitor the effectiveness of resuming research and safety during Phase 1, using this as a guide for deciding when to enter Phase 2.


25. I am opting in to return without seeing my faculty advisor’s plans for our lab space. How do I see this layout? If I am not comfortable with the layout, can I return to working full-time remotely?

If you are contemplating a return to on-campus research activities, we recommend speaking to your advisor(s) and asking to see their plans for distancing in lab. We will post plans for research labs, including the social distancing guidelines, in public spaces outside of each lab area. We will use these plans for spot checks throughout the Engineering complex.


26. I am hearing many different interpretations of what is covered in this phase of resuming research. Can you summarize Penn Engineering’s view?

We are restarting on-campus research activities, placing significant restrictions on how many people can be in our buildings at any time. Returning to campus is voluntary for trainees during this phase. We are reserving time every day for extensive cleaning of labs and public areas. To safely accommodate as many requests as possible, we recommend shift work. With these restrictions, we expect faculty to prioritize what needs to be accomplished now, and what activities can occur in Phase 2 and 3.


27. The university phased down research activities very quickly when the pandemic appeared. It is still here in Philadelphia. What is different now that makes this reopening possible?

At the time the university phased down research in mid-March, we did not know much about the SARS-CoV-2 virus – e.g., we did not know how it spread, its relative incubation period, its full set of symptoms, and the infectious period for an individual. In addition, we did not have testing in place to confirm a SARS-CoV2 infection, nor did we understand how to manage the disease in severely ill COVID-19 patients. We made significant strides in each of these areas within the past 10 weeks. We have testing to confirm a SARS-CoV-2 infection, and CDC guidelines to advise people on whether they are possibly infected with the virus. These guidelines are informed by the new knowledge on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 syndrome. We know the mode of transmission, and evidence to support the use of properly designed facemasks to significantly reduce the risk of transmission.


28. Is there a plan for shutting down areas for more intense cleaning if someone were to be infected who had been on campus?

Every lab area will go through an intensive nightly cleaning by housekeeping staff. If a confirmed case occurs in a lab/working area, EHRS would engage in contact tracing. Using CDC guidelines, the location where the person with the confirmed case works would be shut down for 24hrs. After 24 hours cleaning crews disinfect the location(s). Once disinfected, EHRS provides information on personnel allowed to re-enter the lab. To protect privacy, we will not notify the community of a confirmed case, and we will not disclose the identity of the individual.


29. Since some of us would wear surgical masks on our way to the lab from the apartment, can we use our own masks?

We will require that you wear the masks provided by Penn Engineering. We suggest that you store your mask from home in a brown paper bag for use off campus. We will provide extra bags at designated entry points.


30. For the guideline of washing hands every hour, should we change gloves after washing hands?

Yes, you should replace your disposable gloves after washing your hands.


31. Can you explain the quarantine policy for travel outside of Philadelphia?

We are using guidelines established by the CDC for international travel to high risk countries and the City of Philadelphia Health Department guidance on travel outside of the region (https://www.phila.gov/2020-03-31-social-distancing-isolation-and-quarantine-during-covid-19-coronavirus/)


32. If we attend a protest, are we expected to self-isolate for 14 days prior to coming to lab?

For individuals that participated in the recent protests and want to return to research activities on campus, please note the following important guidance released by the city of Philadelphia which is aligned with the CDC.

Those who were at or near a protest—even if they wore a mask—should follow these recommendations to combat the spread of the virus:

  • Monitor for symptoms like new-onset fever, cough, or shortness of breath for fourteen days.
  • Try to stay away from other people for fourteen days; if you can’t stay at home, be sure to wear a mask properly and try to stay at least six feet from others.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 seven days after having been in a crowd; those seeking testing do NOT need to identify that they were at a protest but instead should say they were near someone who may have had COVID-19.

For testing you should speak with your health care provider. You can access the map of testing sites in Philadelphia.  (There is one near Presbyterian Hospital and one at 36th & Market.) Also, you can access the list of CVS pharmacies who do drop in testing through their Minute Clinics.

The University is adopting a Symptom Monitoring tool developed with the Perelman School of Medicine as the first level of a tiered approach to using digital augmentation of human contact tracing to help lower the risk of COVID-19 spread on campus. This initial function will offer a daily symptom check using a bi-directional text messaging and web application as a condition for entry onto campus each day.

The Symptom Monitoring tool will be piloted shortly and then available for implementation across schools. Work on the tool is being closely coordinated with the University and Penn Medicine Privacy Officers and Office of General Counsel to design a solution that is effective for public health and appropriately privacy-centric.

For any screening that takes place prior to adopting this tool, please remember that personnel who do not pass the symptom screening should be referred to their health care provider and advised to notify EHRS. Additionally, they should notify their supervisor if they feel comfortable doing so.  Information for personnel who do not pass the symptom screening should not be collected and/or tracked directly from any symptom screening tool without appropriate approval.


33. How will I access ice-machine and autoclaves in the building?

The BE department is administering a calendar for shared access of the ice-machine and autoclaves in Skirkanich.


34. Is it okay to change shifts to access some cores with restricted schedules?

No, do not change your shift, as maintenance of the shift schedule is important part of social distancing and manual tracing for SARS-CoV-2 infections. You may use core facilities outside of the time window of your lab shift.


35. How does access to auxiliary buildings work (e.g., the Franklin Building Annex)?

Buildings that are not managed by Penn Engineering developed access policies and working hours that are similar to, but not necessarily identical, to Penn Engineering. We encourage you to contact the building administrator for the auxiliary building to receive their policy details. If you need help identifying the building manager, please contact Killian Feeney (kfeeney@seas.upenn.edu) and he will direct you to the correct person.


36. What is defined as the Philadelphia region?

Within normal commuting distance of campus.


37. Are there guidelines for accessing the Fisher chemical store on campus for restocking lab supplies?

The Fisher chemical store is open starting June 8, from 9AM-5PM from Monday-Friday. Please consult their website for access to their facility.


38. What if we have contact with someone who was outside of the Philadelphia region? Do we still need to quarantine for 14 days before returning to campus?

We recommend quarantine only if you are concerned that you were exposed to an individual COVID-19 symptoms, using the guidelines established by the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

These are consistent with guidelines established by the city of Philadelphia: https://www.phila.gov/2020-03-31-social-distancing-isolation-and-quarantine-during-covid-19-coronavirus/. Please know there are specific guidelines for individuals returning from international travel: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html


39. Can we use the core facility in other building outside assigned shifts in the lab?

We expect the scheduling of the core facility usage for your research may not align exactly with your lab shift work. Therefore, we do not require that the core facility use to occur within your time shift. However, to minimize time on campus, we ask that you try to schedule the time to occur within your shift.


40. Can we exit and re-enter the building during a single shift?



41. How will the building be monitored to assure compliance (<20% per lab group)? Someone at the door during building open hours? Monitors with random checks?

We will have building staff performing spot checks throughout the complex for density. Any irregularities from posted distancing guidelines will be reported to the Watchdog Committee for review and action.


42. Is hand sanitizer an okay alternative or should soap and water be used each hour?

We recommend soap and water for regular handwashing. If you prefer hand sanitizer, you must use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.


43. Does the 14 day travel limit apply to spouses and roommates as well? If they travel, are we to remain off of campus for 14 days?

Similar to previous circumstances, please used CDC guidelines consider action if you are concerned with someone that is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

Please remain vigilant for evidence of COVID-19 symptoms in spouses and roommates after travel, especially international travel (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/risk-assessment.html)


44. Can you expand on how you will be addressing curfew, especially for Black students trying to walk home near curfew?

We will adhere to all curfew guidelines from the city. We strongly recommend that individuals leave campus well in advance of curfew to allow enough time to safely return to their homes. If you are concerned about your safety in returning to your home, please contact the Penn Escort service and they will work with you to provide a solution.

24/7 Walking Escort Service


45. Is the 14-day travel limit temporary (Is this just for the first month, for Phase 1, etc.)?

The 14d self-isolation after travel to high risk areas is based on CDC guidelines.

We will adjust our guidelines when the national guidelines are changed. We do not expect these changes to necessarily align with the transition to different phases.


46. Can we have non-Penn collaborators come to our lab for a short visit, like 1 hour?

Vendors and external collaborators may come to campus. Penn personnel should use the Request for a One-Time Visit Form to gain approval for the external visitor to come to campus.


47. I have heard some discrepancy whether the 20% guideline applies to people or space. Has this been defined and relayed to the PIs?

Phase I guidelines are based on people, “enforced population density restrictions, not to exceed 20% normal operation in laboratory and research buildings.” In addition, social distancing guidelines must be maintained and Penn Engineering has defined an area of >200 sq ft per person to manage lab density.


48. Have all students who requested access received a response or is it left to the advisors who will be notified?

If you have not received an approval to return from the SEAS Associate Dean for Research and were told by your PI that you were part of their plans for resuming research, please contact the SEAS Associate Dean for Research (adro@seas.upenn.edu)


49. Is there a specific regulation for certain school activities such as advisor tutoring students like an office talk?

In this phase, we are re-opening campus for activities that cannot be carried out without access to campus facilities. Meetings/tutoring with advisees should be handled through telework. Engagement with mentors, likely in the lab space for benchtop research, can occur during this phase, if social distancing can be maintained.


50. How should a microscope service tech gain access to Singh?

Penn personnel should submit a Request for a One Time Visit to gain approval for vendors to work on campus.


51.  I am a co-advised student and I split my time between the two labs. How is this being handled?

You should be listed as a co-advised student by both of your advisors and appear on both of their research resumption plans. If this did not occur, please either contact the Associate Dean for Research directly (adro@seas.upenn.edu) or have your advisors contact us.


52. Could you clarify whether or not students are permitted to eat in their offices? I understand labs are not allowed.

Since eating requires removal of a mask, we encourage that you eat in preassigned areas within buildings or in designated outside areas.


53. What is the process for non-SEAS students to access the buildings?

We are sharing lists of personnel across schools that need access to SEAS buildings. If you need to access a facility or lab in Penn Engineering and are not a SEAS graduate student, postdoc, staff, or faculty member, your school should share your request with the Associate Dean for Research to access our buildings and approve that you have opted in for research. Once you are approved you will receive notification and be added to a listserv to receive communications from SEAS.


54. Guidance has been that housekeeping will NOT be entering the lab space. Generally, trash is removed from lab spaces – what is the new procedure for trash removal from lab spaces?

For engineering space, housekeeping will be removing trash on a daily basis and will be thoroughly cleaning surfaces on an overnight shift every day. Other schools are using a policy where housekeeping responsibilities are different, and the lab is responsible for different tasks.


55. Are there timing restrictions on when we can/can’t enter the building to avoid line build-up at the entry doors at popular arrival times? (beyond simply adhering to shift schedules)

No. We have developed the web-based approval process to limit the build-up of lines at entry doors. The selection of designated entry points allows space for social distancing.


56. What if you need to check into the lab BEFORE going to the Singh Center etc.?

Your entry pass will be valid for all entry points in Engineering. At your first entry point, you will pick up your facemask and use it for your entire visit to campus on that day.


57. I am alone in a space for several hours. Do I still need to wash my hands every hour?

Yes, we encourage you to wash your hands every hour. To reduce your exposure to surfaces in the public areas, you may elect to use hand sanitizer in place of soap and water.


58. How are cleaning supplies being distributed? What, and how much, will be allocated per lab group? Will this be provided for use in office spaces?

Cleaning supplies will be supplied to labs through the building managers. Please contact them for additional information.


59. Is it possible to access the lab over week ends for taking sample to core?

Yes. However, if your samples require analysis once they arrive at the core facility, make sure the facility is open over the weekend.


60. What is the on elevator and/or staircase use in buildings we should follow?

We strongly recommend using staircases to transit through buildings. Please stay on the right hand side of the staircase as you travel up and down, therefore maximizing distancing. In addition, please trail people at the appropriate distance. Elevator occupancy limitations will be posted on each elevator, and should be reserved for use when necessary. Hand sanitizers will be available at elevators for disinfection after touching panel surfaces


61. Is there a backup plan to continue research if SEAS were to run out of masks?

We have secured a large inventory of masks. We will be constantly monitoring their usage and inventory level. We do not expect any periods of shortages. In addition, the University/OVPR has the Penn Marketplace providing a trusted supply chain for purchasing of masks, if needed. However, if we cannot provide an adequate number of masks, we will not allow on-campus research activity until the inventory is re-established.


62. If there is a potential exposure, where should we expect this information to come from and what delay is expected on this information?

EHRS. (they are notified if there are cases and are carrying out contact tracing)


62. What is the procedure for summer/1st year PhD students who have yet to get the in person EHRS training? Is this requirement for in person lab usage being modified? Are they allowed in lab spaces if they’ve only done the virtual training?

Please contact EHRS for guidance.


63, What is the procedure for package delivery and how does this change with non-time sensitive packages? Are there health guidelines for handling materials from outside?

Packages will be coordinated through the Copy Center. Disinfectant will be available to wipe down surfaces of the packages, if desired. Time sensitive packages will be prioritized for distribution to labs.


64. In terms of masks – will they be in a box at the door? Handed to us by someone?

Each person entering will be given a mask in a brown paper bag. Please hold on to this brown paper bag after you don your mask, as you should place your mask in the bag when you dispose it later in the day.


65. There are shared resources in our lab. Will we be notified / aware when non-lab members come into our lab for shared resources? Like ice, the PCR machine, nanodrop?

Shared equipment will be accessed using an online calendar system, wherever possible. In some instances, we will relocate the equipment to reduce density in labs as much as possible.


66. I submitted a revision to my plans for resumption of research activities. Will I hear back from School whether it’s been approved or another revision is required?

You will hear back as soon as possible on the outcome of your request. In the meantime, please use the approved guidelines in place until further notice.