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Sansom Place West is one of the places where students could be quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

With positive COVID-19 cases among undergraduate students continuing to soar, more students than ever need advice on what to do after receiving a positive test result.

A total of 633 undergraduate students tested positive from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, nearly 150 more than the week prior. Positive cases across the Penn community are also continuing to increase, as 757 community members tested positive for COVID-19.

With all the COVID-19 cases on campus, students and community members alike need answers on what steps to take. Here's the The Daily Pennsylvanian's step-by-step guide on what to do after testing positive for COVID-19.

Step One: Reporting a positive COVID-19 test

Community members who test positive for COVID-19 likely used one of three possible tests — a Penn Cares PCR test, an at-home rapid antigen test, or a test taken through a third party urgent care, such as myDoc or Vybe Urgent Care.

Students who receive a positive test through the Penn Cares system will automatically earn a red PennOpen Pass. Through the PennOpen Pass system, students can expect instant information and answers and will be placed on the Penn Wellness team’s radar, allowing them to be contacted and receive more professional information.

Director for Campus Health Ashlee Halbritter said that students who test positive for COVID-19 from an at-home rapid test, which can be bought from local drug stores like CVS or ordered through the government’s rapid test distribution program, should first report their positive test result through PennOpen Pass. Students should promptly receive a red PennOpen Pass with additional information and instructions.

Students who test positive through a third-party urgent care test should similarly first report their positive test through the PennOpen Pass system and follow the ensuing directions. They are also encouraged to take a Penn Cares red pass COVID-19 test, even after testing positive through a third-party or at-home test.

Step Two: Receiving guidance

After receiving a red PennOpen Pass, students can expect to receive detailed instructions to follow, through email or over the phone. Halbritter said that it has not been possible to get every student on the phone because of high positivity rates.

“Every single student should be getting some sort of electronic communication that is either coming directly to them from the email address that they used when they registered for PennOpen Pass, or that is coming directly to them in their student health secure messages,” Halbritter said.

Students are also encouraged to utilize COVID Navigator, in which all students are automatically enrolled upon receiving a red PennOpen Pass and allows them to receive individualized support. 

“Students have agency in this situation, and we want them to feel empowered to use the resources that are at their disposal,” Halbritter said. 

Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé added that students should be prepared to answer the phone from an unknown number and remember that their positive test should not be blamed on the contact tracer of a physician.

“There’s been a lot of anger, and it’s understandable,” Dubé said. “People came back to campus hoping to have a more normal experience, and things got disrupted through no fault of their own — it’s nobody’s fault.”

Step Three: Isolating

Regardless of where a community member isolates — either through the University’s isolation housing program or at home — fully vaccinated students are eligible to return to classes six days after testing positive if they are asymptomatic or have improving symptoms.

Halbritter said that students who may not be able to safely travel home to isolate are prioritized in getting a phone call for isolation.

Students who isolate on campus are not eligible to move back into their dorm until 11 days after testing positive, according to Penn’s current Public Health Guidance.

Halbritter said the Wellness team wants to be able to communicate the student’s eligibility to return to class following proper isolation guidelines and the importance of remaining in the isolation space. Halbritter added that students moving into the University’s isolation spaces should receive moving instructions, a packing list, and directions on how to order meals through email.

Halbritter said the University has been responsive to complaints from students living in on-campus isolation housing. Since the start of the spring semester, Penn has stopped using old fraternity and sorority houses for isolation, modified how students can safely order and receive food, expanded the portfolio of isolation real estate, and ensured students receive moving instructions and packing lists.

Step Four: Returning to campus

The University recently updated its isolation policy to match guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which requires all community members to isolate for five days after a positive COVID-19 test and mask around others for an additional five days after isolation. 

Some groups present an exception to the five-day isolation guidelines. Unvaccinated community members must isolate for ten days, students for whom masking the full five days post-isolation is impossible — such as student athletes who are required to compete maskless — must isolate for 10 days, and immunocompromised community members must isolate for 21 days.

Dubé encourages students to hold each other accountable for meeting their required isolation periods and not moving back into a College House before their full isolation is finished.

“We have control of the narrative, and we decide how we want to experience this pandemic,” Dubé said. “It highlights an opportunity for us to be accountable to one another, and it goes back to consequences of decisions we make and the collective responsibility we have for one another.”