Home  /  Updates  /  General Updates  /  12/10/2020 - Campus Surveillance Testing the Week of December 14

12/10/2020 - Campus Surveillance Testing the Week of December 14

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

I am writing to provide an update on our on-campus surveillance testing efforts. The Institute will extend our current mandatory, on-campus surveillance testing for an additional week. This means that all individuals who report to campus for onsite work, research, or instructional responsibilities through December 18 will be required to participate in the program.

After a little more than a week of conducting the on-campus surveillance testing program, during which 4,499 tests have been administered, we have documented the value of broad-based screening in quickly identifying individuals who are carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus so that they can be isolated from the rest of the community to mitigate disease transmission. The testing effort has returned 16 positive test results between November 30 and December 9. This increase in positive cases accounts for nearly half of the 30 new cases reported among campus community members overall in the same timeframe. Since March 2020, Caltech has been informed of 68 cases of COVID-19 in the Caltech community.

This surge in cases within our community is not what any of us hoped to see, but it is also in line with our expectation that there would be an increase in cases as we increased our detection efforts. This trend also aligns with what we are witnessing regionally as cases within Los Angeles County and the state continue to climb. 

For these reasons, we think it is important to continue to provide a broad surveillance testing effort as we close out the 2020 calendar year. This will require us to delay the transition to our new testing partner, Swabseq, which would have required a temporary ramp down in test volume. As such, all students, faculty, staff, or postdoctoral scholars who access the campus (with the exception of spaces such as the post office or credit union which provide public services) through December 18 will be required to be tested for COVID-19. All individuals who can complete their work remotely should remain off campus. At this time, in preparation for the transition to Swabseq, we do not plan to conduct campuswide surveillance testing December 21 through December 23, or during the Institute's end-of-year holiday and special release days.

The testing program requirements are such that if you report to campus a minimum of two days a week, you will be expected to register for a twice-weekly cohort, with testing administered on a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday schedule. Individuals who access campus less frequently, even if just to briefly visit their offices or laboratories, should only do so if they understand that they will be required to test on the day on which they report to campus. Individuals must clear their reporting schedule with their manager or supervisor and then sign up for their testing appointment through SWS's online appointment system at https://caltech.intakeq.com/booking.

The surveillance testing program was specifically designed to identify asymptomatic individuals. Community members who are ill, have a fever, or have been exposed to someone with a positive test for COVID-19 should stay home and report their symptoms through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. Student Wellness Services (SWS) will continue to provide access to COVID-19 testing to members of the Caltech community who are symptomatic or believe they have been exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19; this testing is independent of the surveillance program. Individuals with questions about these testing services may find more information on the Caltech Together website or may email covid19@caltech.edu.

Please note that participating in testing is not a replacement for use of the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. All individuals who report to campus or an off-site facility are still required to attest to their health before arriving and to log all location and close contacts during the extent of their time on campus.

In the meantime, SWS will continue to work toward transitioning to the larger-scale, saliva-based Swabseq surveillance testing program in January. Further details about this program will be shared as soon as they are available. 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. 

The next few months, as we face the holiday season and prepare for the arrival of a vaccine, will be crucial for stemming the tide of the virus. Thank you all for your sustained and careful efforts to mitigate the spread of infection within our community.