Screening for Exposure to COVID-19

Updates on COVID-19: Screening for Exposure

This webpage has been created to share the answers to COVID-19-related questions as pertains to working with human subjects.  Please refer to for additional information.

Updated March 11, 2020, 9 a.m. EST

Screening for Exposure to COVID-19

Penn State recommends asking research participants to complete a short screening for exposure to COVID-19 or symptoms of illness before they are scheduled for any study-related visits and in-person interactions.  This specific screening procedure does not require IRB approval.

Appropriate screening questions might include the following, which could be modified to fit your participant population and the location of in-person interactions. Any YES answer should be considered sufficient reason to postpone in-person visits.

1. Have you had any of the following symptoms in the past two weeks, even if they were mild?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

2. Have you had close contact* with a person who is under investigation for possible COVID-19?

3. In the past three weeks, have you visited a country or facility with sustained (ongoing) occurrence of COVID-19, such as:

  • China
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • South Korea

Decisions about in-person visits should be especially conservative for people at higher risk per public health recommendations:

  • Over 60 years of age
  • Underlying health conditions including heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant

In addition, Penn State researchers should:

  • Follow any guidelines or instructions from the specific facility (e.g., Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health) where participant interaction would occur.
  • Consider the participant population (e.g., are they considered “high risk” for COVID-19?) and the setting in which the interaction would occur.
  • Develop possible alternatives to in-person study visits that are important for subject safety and monitoring.
  • Ensure that hand sanitizer, hand washing facilities and/or cleaning wipes are readily available for screened participants, when in-person interactions will occur.
  • See the related information about Is Study Visit Cancellation Recommended?


*Close contact is defined by the CDC as (a) being within approx. 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time. Close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a health care waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case OR (b) having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on).