Screening for Exposure to COVID-19

Updates on COVID-19: Screening for Exposure

The Office of the Senior Vice President for Research has recently updated the Revised Standards for Human Subjects Research. The Revised Standards apply to Penn State human subjects research, regardless of location, including international sites. All research that can be conducted remotely (via phone, Zoom, etc. – see FAQs) should be conducted remotely Please see the Institutional Review Board (IRB) COVID-19 informational page for additional information. Penn State Health researchers and staff should also view Penn State Health-specific guidance.

Updated November 20, 2020

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. Penn State Health researchers and staff should also view Penn State Health-specific guidance and screening script.

All research staff and partcipants must follow the University's personal safety practices: Participants should be informed in advance of required face masks, social distancing pratices, and other safety procedures. 

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? (Note: the incubation period for COVID-19 is believed to be 2 to 14 days. See CDC: Symptoms of Coronavirus)

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches that are not attributable to another medical condition or another specific activity
  • Throat pain
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Fatigue
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea


2. Have you had close contact* with a person who tested positive for or is under investigation for possible COVID-19 in the last two weeks?

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

  • Older adults
  • Those with severe underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant

In addition, Penn State researchers should:

  • Practice measures for maintaining health and safety:

    • Mandatory physical distancing (at least 6 ft), extensive hand washing, wearing of face masks, and disinfection of areas and equipment used by more than one person
  • Researchers at the College of Medicine should follow guidance:
  • Researchers at all other campuses should follow Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) guidance for cleaning.
  • Follow any additional guidelines or instructions from the specific facility (e.g., Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health) where participant interaction would occur.


*Close contact is defined by the CDC as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period  starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated. The determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE. (See