skip to main content
Home  /  Updates  /  Updates for Students and Parents  /  9/3/2021 - Plans for the Start of Fall Term

9/3/2021 - Plans for the Start of Fall Term

To: Caltech Students and Families

From: Kevin Gilmartin, Vice President for Student Affairs
David Chan, Dean of Graduate Studies
Lesley Nye, Interim Dean of Undergraduate Students


As the beginning of the academic year approaches, we must accept that the coming term will be far from typical, given the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 and uneven vaccination rates and risk mitigation measures in communities across the nation. While we have a very high rate of vaccination among our student population and community at large, case activity in Los Angeles County and in the City of Pasadena continues to occur even among vaccinated individuals. The Institute is following exposure management guidelines from public health officials in Los Angeles County and the City of Pasadena, and is also implementing its own policies and protocols to support a conservative approach to transitioning to in-person learning first, and then to broader social activities and events that may present greater risk for transmission.

In the initial weeks of the term, in particular, we intend to restrict indoor gatherings and large social events that involve food and drink (and therefore unmasking), as well as events where physical distancing is difficult to maintain. The plans outlined below represent a careful start to the term; we hope this approach will enable us to gradually increase social activities and will reduce the likelihood that we will need to institute even more restrictive measures as a result of widespread community transmission. The health and safety of community members remains our top priority, and it is all of our individual and collective responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of the campus community.

We are providing this initial, essential communication to explain some of the policies and procedures that we will be implementing at the start of Fall term in order to reduce risk and support the educational, research, and residential experience that is at the core of Caltech's mission. Please read this message carefully, as all incoming students and their families will be expected to understand and comply with the policies and processes outlined here. We are committed to ensuring that students will have the opportunity to return, in a safe and measured way, to the social activities that are an important part of the student experience. The best way to allow for some of the restrictions outlined below to be lifted is for all of us to exercise care through the complex and inherently risky process of student arrival, move-in, and acclimation to campus health and safety practices.

On-campus Arrival and Check-in Process:

  • All newly arriving graduate and undergraduate students who intend to live in Caltech housing must plan to take a PCR test for COVID-19 (rapid antigen tests are not acceptable) within 72 hours prior to their arrival on campus. PCR tests are generally available from primary care physicians, local community clinics, or pharmacy locations across the country. Students will need to have received the results of their test before they travel to campus, and will then need to show evidence of a negative test result as part of their campus check-in process. Students who receive a positive result must delay their travel to campus and contact their deans' office immediately to make arrangements for a late arrival. Students will not be permitted to move in to their housing assignment without proof of a negative test, and should plan for alternate accommodations if they arrive without this documentation.
  • All international travelers should be aware that per CDC guidelines they are required to have a negative test result prior to entry into the United States. Vaccinated international travelers who arrive in the United States more than 72 hours before arriving on campus will need to take a PCR test for COVID-19 locally and be prepared to present negative test results as part of the campus check-in process. Unvaccinated international travelers must follow travel quarantine procedures, and should contact Caltech Housing to make arrangements for their arrival in advance.
  • Once students arrive on campus and begin the check-in process, they will be registered for the Institute's mandatory surveillance testing program and provided with a self-collection kit for twice-weekly specimen collection. Students will receive instructions about how to drop off their first specimen on the day of arrival, and are required to submit a second sample 3-5 days later. All students in residence are required to submit two samples per week, at least 48 hours apart, until further notice.
  • Undergraduate students are permitted to have up to two individuals assist them with the move-in process. Any individual assisting an undergraduate student during move-in must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test result (within 72 hours prior to the student's check-in date) in order to receive a wristband to enter the residences. Masks will be required at all times during the move-in process, regardless of vaccination status, and we ask those providing assistance to limit their time in the residences to one hour.
  • After check-in, non-resident guests will not be allowed in undergraduate housing until further notice.
  • Further information about the check-in process is available from the housing office.
  • If a student tests positive for COVID-19 at any time after arriving on campus, they will be moved into isolation housing. There is further information in the section on testing, reporting, quarantine, and isolation below.

Orientation Activities:

Due to staggered arrival dates and the risk of infection associated with travel, Student Affairs will not sponsor any large, interactive in-person social events or activities until all community members have acclimated to the on-campus safety protocols and participated at the minimum in the initial two rounds of surveillance testing. We see this as a "pause" during which we can assess case rates and community safety before allowing activities that might involve higher risks of transmission.

In accordance with this cautious and phased approach to a return to campus activity: 

  • All orientation events for both graduate and undergraduate students will be virtual, or held in small groups, to reduce the risk of case activity that could delay the start of classes and the subsequent resumption of larger-scale in-person social activities.
  • All incoming first-year graduate and undergraduate students will be assigned to residential orientation "pods" of 8-10 peers. During orientation, and then leading into the initial transition to the Fall term, these students should limit their in-person social interactions to their pod during meals and group activities.
  • Group meals during the orientation period will either be to-go or picnic-style, served and seated outdoors.
  • Masks and social distancing will be required at all orientation events (including those held outdoors) unless a student is either alone, with their assigned roommate/s in their own bedroom or internal lounge (Bechtel suites only), or eating outdoors with their pod.
  • Undergraduate students will only be allowed to access their own residential complexes: the North houses, the South houses, Avery, Bechtel, or Marks/Braun. Non-resident guests will not be permitted in these residential communities.
  • Graduate students who live in Caltech-owned properties may only host vaccinated guests.
  • Occupancy for all Student Affairs common spaces, indoors and outdoors, will be reduced to 50% until further notice. Students are expected to adhere to occupancy limits that will be clearly identified in signage at each location.

Initial Post-Orientation Activities:

  • The Vice President for Student Affairs and leadership in the Office of Residential Experience are working with student leaders to develop alternative plans for rotation events that are consistent with the cautious approach we are taking to orientation and other initial activities. While we understand that in-person rotation activities are a valued part of the Caltech undergraduate experience, these activities are intensively and extensively social, and under current public health conditions they involve significant individual and community risk. Rotations plans will be announced when they have been finalized.
  • The timing of any move of first-year students into post-rotation residential assignments may need to be adjusted based on case rates through the initial rounds of surveillance testing.
  • To start the term, undergraduate students will only be allowed to access their own residential complexes: the North houses, the South houses, Avery, Bechtel, or Marks/Braun. Non-resident guests will not be permitted in these residential communities.
  • For undergraduate students, dining services will provide cafeteria-style service and open kitchens with prepackaged and grab-and-go meals. Avery and the South kitchen will be open for lunch, along with Chandler, Broad, and the Red Door Marketplace.
  • Tents and outdoor furniture will be provided in various areas around campus, and will be available for student use and for reservation. All students will be expected to adhere to posted occupancy limits and stated rules for these locations. Outdoor furniture will be placed to facilitate physical distancing, and for this reason students must not rearrange the furniture.
  • There will not be podding or other restrictions on informal student social activities, beyond the occupancy limits and indoor masking requirements outlined above. However, we urge students to exercise reasonable care in their social interactions, particularly through the early weeks of term. We hope to ease restrictions as the fall term progresses, and our ability to do so will depend on limiting case activity.

Once we have onboarded all undergraduate and graduate students, and have had the opportunity to get through at least two initial cycles of surveillance testing, we will assess case rates and patterns of transmission. If it is appropriate, we will then adjust policies and lift some of the restrictions outlined above. In particular, if case rates allow, we expect to be able to increase in-person activities, to allow for larger-scale social events, and to relax building restrictions so that all undergraduate students (including those residing off-campus) can access all undergraduate residential facilities.

However, please note that the following preventative measures will remain in place until further notice:

  • The requirements around testing, isolation, and quarantine (see below)
  • The vaccination requirement for anyone who enters a residence
  • 50% reduced occupancy in common areas

We ask that the student community remain patient and understanding as we repopulate the student residences in a manner that supports the health and well-being of the entire campus community. At every step, our goal is to proceed in a safe and measured manner, with all members of the community responsibly transitioning to in-person social activities, while avoiding any disruption to in-person learning.

Testing, Reporting, Isolation, and Quarantine:

  • Graduate and undergraduate students living in residence will be required to submit two samples per week through the Institute's surveillance testing program. Individuals who fail to comply with the twice-weekly testing regimen or repeatedly violate masking and physical distancing requirements may lose residential privileges, have their access to campus restricted, or be placed on involuntary leave. Actions to address noncompliance will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
  • Any student experiencing symptoms of illness must self-report immediately through the COVID-19 Reporting application at access.caltech.edu, wear a mask at all times (including in a private living space if they have a roommate or suitemates), and limit contact with others until they can be evaluated by Student Wellness Services.
  • Students must respond to and comply with communications from Student Wellness Services regarding follow-up testing if they are flagged through the surveillance testing program, and they must follow all instructions related to contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
  • Students with a laboratory-confirmed positive case of COVID-19 will be moved to dedicated on-campus isolation space. Meals and wellness check-ins will be provided and faculty will be informed so they can provide appropriate academic accommodations. Additional information on the Institute's isolation and quarantine policy are available on the Caltech Together website.
  • In accordance with Los Angeles County and Pasadena Public Health guidelines, a vaccinated student identified as a close contact of an infected individual must comply with modified quarantine measures. They may remain in their assigned housing but will not be permitted to engage in social or non-essential, non-academic activities. They should limit in-person interactions with others, perform symptom checks twice a day, and submit an additional surveillance program sample on day 3-5 post-exposure. If their sample is not flagged for follow-up testing, they will be cleared to resume non-essential activities, but must continue to wear a mask at all times and continue diligent twice-daily symptom checks for a full 14 days post-exposure. Students should immediately report any symptoms to Student Wellness Services.
  • If an unvaccinated student is identified as a close contact of an infected individual, they must move to quarantine housing for 10 days and may not attend class, engage in social or extracurricular activities, or enter any other campus buildings. Any such individuals must continue to monitor symptoms for a full 14 days after exposure and report any symptoms to Student Wellness Services immediately.

We all wish that the start of this academic year could resemble the return to campus that the Caltech community has enjoyed in the past. However, at this time the only responsible return to residence and to learning is a cautious approach, one that appreciates the challenges of current pandemic conditions. We ask all students to join us in the effort to keep Caltech's campus safe as we return to residences and in-person learning.