University adjusting student spring COVID-19 testing strategy

Resources shifted to conduct more walk-up testing; more effective at identifying cases

Based on scientific data and guidance from the COVID-19 Operations Control Center, Penn State is adjusting its coronavirus testing strategy to increase the use of walk-up testing among students and implement rapid testing at various testing locations on the University Park campus. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State is adjusting its spring 2021 COVID-19 testing strategy to increase the use of walk-up testing among students and implement additional rapid testing at the various testing locations on the University Park campus. This adjustment emerged through COVID-19 Operations Control Center monitoring that shows active student use of walk-up testing has proven to be an important mitigation factor that can be expanded. This expansion, along with increased rapid testing, will help detect more cases faster and mitigate spread.  

Many students who use the University’s walk-up testing sites are self-identifying as thinking they may have been being exposed, so the positivity rate of the walk-up testing is typically higher than the random testing. Expanding walk-up testing will allow the University to support these students, identify more COVID-19 positive students and facilitate their period of isolation. The increased availability of rapid tests will deliver students' results quickly and speed up contact tracing and quarantine. Testing protocols will include both rapid testing and PCR testing methods.

“From the beginning, our testing and monitoring strategy has been designed to be flexible so that we can make changes as we learn what works and what tactics may be more effective,” said Kevin Black, interim dean of the College of Medicine. “We are identifying a lot more positive cases through walk-up testing than we are with random testing, so based on scientific data and guidance from the COVID-19 Operations Control Center, we have made this adjustment to help us grow walk-up testing and encourage more students to use it more often, and there is no cost to students for the testing. Students have been important partners in our efforts and we hope this will continue.”

Random testing remains an important part of the University’s layered testing strategy, including walk-up testing, quarantine testing and symptomatic testing at University Health Services and campus health centers. Previously, students completed two rounds of required testing – one before arriving to campus and one during the first two weeks of on-campus learning. Between 1% and 2% of the University’s on-campus population of students and employees will be tested each day as part of the random testing program. Based on the experience from this fall, this level of random testing is sufficient to help identify trends and monitor changes in the virus prevalence on campuses.

“We will be increasing our outreach to students, encouraging them to get tested frequently, particularly if they feel that they are at risk or may have been exposed,” Black continued. “Our message is that it doesn’t matter if you have tested last month, last week or yesterday, if you are concerned that you may be infected, we are asking that you come get tested again. Our students have been very diligent and by continuing to work together, we will have a successful and productive spring semester.”

Black added that the change in strategy also will allow the University to more quickly identify where there may be a cluster of cases and deploy directed testing, as needed, for a residence hall or another location on or near campus where positive cases may be trending upward. 

Walk-up testing is available for students who are identified in the University’s contact tracing process or who believe they may have been in close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. Students who test positive will be referred to isolation and the University’s contact tracing process will be initiated.

At University Park, walk-up testing for students is available at the Hintz Alumni Center and will be available at the Pegula Ice Arena beginning on March 1 (Monday-Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). At the Commonwealth Campuses, testing processes are defined for each campus and are typically administered by the local health center or other designated area. Specific details and hours can be obtained through Student Affairs.

Students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should seek out symptomatic testing through a University health care provider. At University Park, students living on campus or in the local community who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to schedule testing appointments with University Health Services (UHS) via myUHS (review UHS's hours of operation). Students living on or near other Penn State campuses should seek symptomatic testing via their campus’ health services or a local provider.

More information on University COVID-19 testing is available online at

Last Updated March 11, 2021