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12/8/2020 - Update on Stay-At-Home Order and On-campus Surveillance Testing

To: The Campus Community
From: Jennifer Howes, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Wellness

With the past weeks' daily increases in COVID-19 cases locally and across the state and country, it is evident that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is circulating at high levels in our communities. In response to these alarming trends, the state has implemented a regional Stay-At-Home order and the Institute has started an on-campus surveillance testing program. This memo is meant to provide updates on the impact of the state and local health orders on campus operations, as well as to inform the community of Caltech's plans to expand the on-campus surveillance testing program for all individuals reporting to campus beginning in January. 

Stay-At-Home Order

This weekend, Pasadena issued a new health order that took effect Sunday, December 6 at 10 p.m. The Pasadena order temporarily closes bars, outdoor dining, and personal services businesses, limits retail establishments to 20 percent occupancy, and prohibits public and private gatherings of individuals from different households, except for religious services or protests.

In general, this order does not change current research or business operations at Caltech. Individuals who are able to work remotely should continue to do so; individuals whose work and research responsibilities require reporting on-site should report as scheduled and in accordance with the Institute's risk prevention measures

In addition, all individuals who are reporting to campus for work or research this week, are required to:

For the remainder of the 2020 calendar year, and into the start of the new year, it is imperative that each of us recommits to all preventative health guidelines.

The current trajectory of the pandemic and the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in our broader community is alarming. Reversing this trend, which includes new daily case records set in Pasadena for three consecutive days over the weekend and a recent jump in known positive cases among members of the Caltech community, will require each of us to be stringent in following proven preventative measures: 

  • wear a face covering whenever you are outside your home, 
  • maintain a minimum of six feet of physical distance from individuals from outside of your household, and 
  • practice good hygiene and handwashing. 

Members of a faculty working group on COVID-19 have also provided the Caltech community with access to an independent assessment of the effectiveness of more than a dozen commercially available face coverings with recommendation on the most effective options on the Caltech Together website ( login required).

On-campus Surveillance Testing

In the first week of the mandatory on-campus surveillance testing program, Student Wellness Services (SWS) was able to administer 2,952 tests for 1,681 asymptomatic staff, faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and students. The expanded testing effort, administered in partnership with Fulgent Genetics, resulted in SWS identifying eight individuals who tested positive for COVID-19, representing a cumulative campus positivity rate of 0.28 percent. More than three-quarters of the individuals who participated in the program reported to campus on at least two separate days and were tested twice. All other individuals were tested on the single day in which they reported to campus. 

While we await information from the second week of the pilot program, I would like to thank everyone involved for how smoothly the surveillance testing program operated overall. It is evident that ongoing screening of asymptomatic community members is effective in identifying individuals who may be carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and allows us to use that information to isolate the individuals from the community prior to them becoming symptomatic. 

SWS intends to build on the success of this initial pilot program, operationalizing a mandatory campuswide saliva-based surveillance testing program that will be in place by early January for all staff, faculty, students, and postdoctoral scholars reporting on-site. The shift to the self-administered saliva PCR test, which will be conducted in partnership with Swabseq, will begin December 14, with a focus on testing essential staff members from facilities and research operations first; all other individuals who report to campus will be tested starting in the new year. SWS is also working with interested off-site locations to establish testing programs for employees at those locations. More information on these efforts and training sessions will be provided in the weeks ahead. 

In the meantime, we will continue to test all symptomatic individuals as well as asymptomatic individuals with a known COVID-19 exposure. If you are ill, or have concerns about a potential exposure to someone who was ill or has tested positive for COVID-19, contact SWS by phone (626-395-6393, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.– 5 p.m.) or email ( for further evaluation and to learn about options for testing appointments. Individuals experiencing COVID-like symptoms should also promptly report the illness through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting App.

Thank you all for your sustained and continued efforts to mitigate the spread of infection within our community. The pandemic has brought emotional, mental, and sometimes physical strain to our community and your households. Projections for the course of the disease over the next couple of weeks are concerning, but if we can remain diligent in our practice and adherence to the health measures implemented by the Institute and local authorities, I am hopeful we can make a difference together.