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COVID-19 Testing

Updated Mary 16, 2021

Caltech offers two types of COVID-19 testing through Student Wellness Services (SWS). These services are provided free-of-charge to members of the community, as detailed below, as part of an ongoing effort to proactively screen for and mitigate the risks of infection within the Caltech community.

While an important aspect of Caltech's risk-mitigation efforts, testing alone is not enough. All members of the community are expected to adhere to all preventative health measures (including maintaining a minimum of six feet of distance from individuals outside of your household, wearing a face covering, and washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol), as well as to attest to their health, report all locations visited, and log close campus contacts for every day they are on campus or at a Caltech-managed offsite facility through the COVID-19 Web Reporting Application.

Testing for Symptomatic/Exposed Individuals

Members of the campus community (faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars, and students) may be eligible for SARS-CoV-2 nasal swab testing through SWS in the following circumstances:

  • You are experiencing COVID-like symptoms;
  • You have been identified as a close contact (within six feet for an accumulated 15 minutes or longer) of an ill person;
  • You have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19;
  • Or you have participated in activities that present an elevated risk for exposure.

Contact SWS by phone (626-395-6393, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.– 5 p.m.) in advance of acquiring a testing appointment, so that a medical provider can evaluate your situation and provide you with further instructions. Individuals experiencing COVID-like symptoms should also promptly report the illness through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting App.

Individuals who do not have specific risk factors for exposure to COVID-19 may be referred to testing through primary care providers or other testing resources in the community.

In addition to testing individuals who are symptomatic or potentially exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Institute requires as a part of its onboarding process for new community members that all incoming graduate students and postdoctoral scholars entering Caltech-owned housing be tested and quarantine for seven days upon arrival to the campus or offsite facilities. At the end of the quarantine period, these individuals will be retested, and on confirmation of a negative result will be moved to their permanent housing assignment.

Prior to accessing campus to begin research activities, incoming graduate students, those who are returning from leave, and undergraduates who have been approved for on-campus research must participate in the surveillance testing program.

On-Campus Surveillance Testing Program

Caltech maintains a campus-based surveillance testing program to regularly screen all individuals reporting to campus or regularly accessing campus facilities for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Students, faculty members, postdoctoral scholars, and staff members who are reporting to campus are required to participate; on-campus affiliates and contractors are encouraged to participate. Participation in the surveillance testing program is required of all individuals reporting to campus, regardless of vaccination status.

The testing program, which is administered by SWS in partnership with the testing partner Swabseq, uses a saliva-based next-generation sequencing (NGS) test. Through this screening process, the Institute hopes to identify individuals who are unknowingly infected with the virus, and to guide them through the process of isolation and contact tracing.

Anyone who plans to report to campus for work, research, or instructional responsibilities must be approved to do so and familiarize themselves with the testing program. Testing participants are pre-approved by an individual's manager/supervisor or the division office that approved their lab's operational plan.

For more information on the requirements of the program, or to address specific questions that may not be addressed in the details below, please see the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Testing Process & Instructions

NOTE: Individuals who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or who have a known exposure to a positive case of COVID-19 should not report to surveillance testing sites, even if they have scheduled an appointment. Instead, individuals should report their symptoms through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting App and consult with Student Wellness Services on testing for symptomatic or exposed individuals.

Individuals who have had a confirmed laboratory test for COVID-19 should not participate in any surveillance testing for 90 days following the positive test. Individuals may return positive results for sensitive PCR SARS-CoV-2 tests, even though they are no longer infectious, on an intermittent and extended basis. If you have a history of a positive test and you become symptomatic, or have an exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should report the illness or exposure through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting App to initiate contact with a medical provider who will contact you to provide further instructions.

You may contact the Disability and Leave Unit (leaveunit@caltech.edu) to obtain an exemption from the surveillance testing program if you have had a positive test within the last 90 days; the Leave Unit can communicate your exemption from the program to your supervisor or manager.

Before you report to campus, please complete the following steps:


  • If you are identified as someone who must to report to campus, you will be sent an invitation to sign up for your first testing appointment. Immediately after completing your first testing appointment, you will be asked to set up a second appointment, and so on. Please see the information on cohorts to determine if you are required to test two days a week.

If you have not received an invitation but believe you should be reporting to campus, check with your division office (research personnel) or manager or supervisor (administrative and support staff).

  • Prior to returning to a laboratory, faculty members and laboratory leaders need to develop plans and standard operating procedures with the assistance of the Caltech Safety Office. These plans must be approved by the cognizant division chair. Once approved, the division will send SWS requests to add necessary members of the lab to the testing schedule.
  • Administrative and support staff will need the approval of their department's vice president, who will send SWS requests to add necessary members of their staff to the testing schedule.


  • If you plan to report to campus a minimum of two days a week, you will be expected to register for twice-weekly tests, with testing administered on a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday schedule.
  • If you access campus less frequently, or only plan to drop by on a one-off basis, you will be required to test on the day (Monday-Friday) on which you report to campus.

Limited Friday Appointments

  • Please note that specimen collection on Fridays is limited to between 8 a.m. and noon. Because of this limited collection window, we are not able to accommodate unscheduled or same-day appointments on Fridays. Friday appointments will be available only to individuals with a scheduled appointment.
  • If you regularly report to campus on Fridays only or otherwise have research, work, or instructional responsibilities to attend to on campus on a Friday please schedule your appointment in advance in the testing group system. If you have questions about doing so, please email covid19@caltech.edu for assistance.

Testing Operations

  • SWS will administer tests outside of Beckman Auditorium, with entry points on both the East and West sides of the building.
  • Testing will begin on Tuesday, January 5, and will continue Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and on Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. Extended hours and weekend coverage, as well as the introduction of self-collection kits, to better accommodate individuals' varied reporting schedules will be considered in future phases of the program. Information on such offerings will be shared as the services come online.


  • Before coming to campus, log onto the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. If you are ill, have a fever, or have been exposed to someone with a positive test for COVID-19, stay home and report your symptoms or exposure through the application.
  • If you have no symptoms and no known COVID-19 exposures, report to your assigned location for testing at your scheduled appointment time. (See Registration section above for details on scheduling an appointment).
  • DO NOT EAT, DRINK, SMOKE, or CHEW GUM for 30 minutes prior to your test.
  • You will be provided with a small specimen tube and a funnel; you will use the funnel to collect saliva in the tube, cap the tube, and place the specimen tube in the collection area. Detailed instructions about how you will collect your specimen are available in English and Spanish.
  • Once you have completed testing, return to your work location to complete your day as planned. Once you have completed the online consent form and any outstanding demographic information for your testing profile, the process, from your arrival at the testing location through completion of testing, should take no more than 5-10 minutes. This counts as paid work time.
  • You will receive your personal testing results directly via text or email through a secure platform. If you test positive, you will be instructed to isolate and you will be contacted by a medical provider for contact tracing, and further guidance; do not return to campus until you are cleared to do so.

If you have additional questions about the testing program, please contact SWS at covid19@caltech.edu; for questions about reporting to campus during this time period, or the testing requirement, please contact Employee & Organizational Development (EOD) at eod@caltech.edu.

Considerable care has been taken to ensure physical distancing and the use of personal protective equipment by those working at the testing collection site. Individuals will be screened for symptoms and temperatures will be taken; anyone with symptoms or a temperature over 100F will be immediately directed to an outdoor table and will have a rapid antigen test as well as collect a specimen for the RT-PCR test. All individuals reporting for testing must wear a face covering at all times with the exception of during the specimen collection. Written and visual instructions will be available to guide individuals through the self-collection process, and trained staff will be onsite to assist as needed.

Individuals will receive their personal testing results directly via text or email through a secure platform. Results will be available within 24-48 hours of testing, All cumulative test results will be reported through the COVID-19 Dashboard. Individuals who test positive will be instructed to isolate in accordance with the Institute's Isolation and Quarantine policy and will be contacted by a medical provider for contact tracing and further guidance. Please do not return to campus unitl you are cleared to do so.


As noted above, participation in surveillance testing is mandatory for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars, and students working on campus. Participation in the program is highly recommended for all other affiliates.

An individual who does not complete mandatory testing may have their access to campus restricted. Non-compliance will be managed through the individuals' manager or supervisor, in consultation with Human Resources, the Office of the Provost, or the Graduate and Undergraduate Deans' offices.