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1/9/2021 - First Week of Surveillance Testing

To: Caltech Community Members Reporting to Campus

From: Jennifer Howes
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Wellness 

On behalf of the Institute, I want to say thank you to all of the community members who participated in the first week of surveillance testing using our new lab partner, UCLA Swabseq. Overall, we are pleased with the new operation and how it will enable us to provide regular testing to a broader swath of the campus community. In the first week of testing operations, we conducted 2,839 tests, identifying nine individuals in the first two days of testing (results are pending for the remaining days) who were positive for SARS-CoV-2.

We expected that, as with the start of any new effort, the shift to this new collection method and new site would be a learning opportunity. We have indeed received valuable feedback from community members and health and safety professionals, and will continue to make refinements as we forge ahead.

We hope the following information will address many of the questions we have received; it also offers guidance to help make the scheduling, collection, and case management processes more efficient.

Testing Site and Operations
Our testing protocols were developed in concert with UCLA Swabseq and established according to guidelines governing specimen collection, personal protective equipment use, and physical distancing. The test location has been established outdoors within a large tent to ensure that there is appropriate ventilation of the space, to prevent disruption or delays in testing due to inclement weather, and to minimize impact on other areas of campus and on research operations. The collection tables are spaced a minimum of 10 feet apart, and are sanitized between uses. While all handling of specimen collection materials is conducted by personnel wearing appropriate PPE, we will be refining our procedures for the distribution of such materials to testing participants and implementing additional protective measures. Caltech's biosafety officers have and will continue to monitor the test operation site to ensure that collection protocols and test site operations support the safety of the staff and testing participants. We have also invited the Pasadena Public Health Department to visit the site and we will incorporate any additional guidance we receive from PPHD officials into our procedures.

All individuals who have been identified as reporting to campus for essential activities more than one day per week have been added to a twice-weekly testing group. The test schedule is broken into two appointment blocks each week; each individual in the testing group is expected to make an appointment to be tested once during the Monday/Tuesday block and then again once during the Wednesday/Thursday/Friday block. After you have taken the test for one testing block, you will receive a reminder to schedule a testing time for the next appointment block only; you will not be able to schedule an appointment for any future blocks.

If you are a member of the testing group, please only use the personal scheduling link provided to you in the testing group system, rather than the same-day scheduling link that had previously been available in the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. To help keep the appointment process as efficient as possible, that same-day scheduling link has now been disabled.

If you report to campus only once per week, you should schedule an appointment for the day you are on site through the testing group system. Please disregard appointment scheduling reminders that cover days you are not reporting to campus.

If you do not regularly report to campus but need to access campus facilities (and thus are required to test on the day you report in), you can make a same-day appointment at check-in at the testing site; a limited number of such appointments will be available Mondays through Thursdays. At this time, there are no additional testing options for individuals who report to campus only on a Friday or over the weekend.

In addition, please be aware of the following:

  • After you have taken the test during your scheduled appointment for one testing block, you will receive a link to schedule your next appointment in the subsequent scheduling block. It is not possible to schedule appointments more than one block ahead (i.e., you are not able to schedule both appointments for the following week at once).
  • When scheduling your appointment, enter your name exactly as it is written on the scheduling invitation; this will help to prevent potential errors in the system.
  • If you receive a scheduling link but do not schedule an appointment for that block, you will automatically receive a link to schedule for the next block once that block opens; generally, this invitation will come in the evening of the last day (Tuesday or Friday) of the current scheduling block. For example, individuals will receive a link to schedule for Monday or Tuesday of the next week on Friday evening.
  • It appears the scheduling site has intermittent issues functioning properly with Safari. If you encounter difficulties, please first clear your cookies and cache; if that does not work, please try another browser. If difficulties persist, please email covid19@caltech.edu for assistance.

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; thus, moving forward and for the foreseeable future, 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.

We apologize to anyone who was not able to test as expected on Friday, January 8, because of extended wait times for testing.

Specimen Collection
We recognize that the saliva test and collection process is new to many of our community members and offer the following guidance to ensure that the process can be completed as quickly and easily as possible:

  • Do not eat, drink (including water), smoke, or chew gum for 30 minutes prior to specimen collection. (This is updated guidance.)
  • Please ensure you are well-hydrated throughout your day and prior to your appointment; it is helpful to begin salivating and refraining from swallowing as you leave the check-in area and proceed to the specimen collection area.
  • Lift your mask so as to expose only your mouth, if possible; keep your nose covered, and replace your mask as soon as you have collected your specimen.
  • When collecting the specimen, please dribble saliva into the tube and do not spit forcefully; it can also help to angle the funnel in such a manner that air bubbles do not form in the funnel tube.
  • Do not bang the tube on the table to resolve air bubbles. If your funnel becomes blocked, please use a provided tissue to clear the saliva from the tube and resume collection.
  • Fill the specimen tube ½ to ¾ full with clear saliva. Specimens that are insufficient may not be processed, or may need to be re-run; this may result in a delay in notification of results.
  • If you have significant difficulty producing enough saliva to fill the tube ½ full at two consecutive testing appointments, please contact covid19@caltech.edu for further consultation. 

Please note that beginning on Monday, January 11, each participant will receive an individual alcohol wipe to sanitize the tube after it is closed up and prior to specimen drop off.

The majority of test results will be available within 24-48 hours. However, if the specimen is insufficient, the lab will generally try to re-run these samples to obtain a result, and there may be a delay. We are working with UCLA Swabseq and PreciseQ to ensure that individuals are notified in a timely manner that their sample was unable to be processed.

  • If you receive a positive result, do not report to campus. A medical provider will contact you to provide additional consultation and isolation instructions, initiate contact tracing, and answer any questions you may have. Please be sure that your information is current in the COVID-19 Reporting Application, and that you are able to recount any interactions with individuals on campus in the two days prior to your positive result.
  • If you receive a negative result, no further action is required.
  • If your result is delayed or returns as insufficient, you should continue to report to campus as scheduled. In advance of your next testing appointment, please consider the specimen collection tips above to improve your sample. If you receive two insufficient sample results, please contact covid19@caltech.edu for further consultation. A provider may reach out to you to discuss your individual circumstances.
  • If you receive an inconclusive result, please make an appointment at Student Wellness Services (626-395-6393) for a retest on the next business day after you received your result. You may report to work pending the results of the second test, but should continue to monitor your health for the development of any symptoms and continue to practice physical distancing, masking, and proper hygiene.

Updates to the Surveillance Testing Dashboard
As we continue to refine the institutional-level reporting process with our lab partner, there may be delays in reporting cumulative surveillance testing results on Caltech's COVID-19 Dashboard. Information on the dashboard will be updated as it is available.

Please be assured that all positive results are addressed by the medical team the morning they are received; although the contact tracing process can take time, notifications to relevant campus partners will be made as soon as the pertinent information is available for each case. We are committed to informing the community about the testing program and are working diligently to ensure that this reporting occurs in a timely fashion.

Additional questions on Caltech's surveillance testing program may be answered on the Caltech Together website; additional questions or concerns may be emailed to covid19@caltech.edu.