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9/9/2021 - Arrival Testing and Continuing Safety Protocols

To: Caltech Students and Families

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

In a communication sent to all enrolled students and families last week, Caltech Student Affairs outlined the move-in process and requirement for pre-arrival testing and participation in the Institute's twice-weekly surveillance program. I write today to follow up on that message and to address new questions from the community, clarify expectations, and provide resources to ensure that we are able to begin the year in a collaborative and productive way. 

As we bring new and returning students together on campus and repopulate residences at levels not seen in more than 18 months, we are focused on ensuring that everyone acclimates to campus health and safety measures and that we all engage in new activities and programs in a manner that mitigates the spread of COVID-19. Some of these requirements are coming just a few weeks before students move in; we appreciate your cooperation and flexibility as we confront the real challenges that are ahead. These guidelines apply to students who are checking in to Caltech-owned properties on and after September 15, 2021. 

Arrival Testing

The recent experiences of and lessons learned from peer institutions that have returned their student communities have demonstrated the effectiveness of pre-arrival testing and use of face coverings in mitigating large-scale outbreaks at the start of the term. By identifying individuals who may be asymptomatic but infectious prior to their arrival, we have the ability to prevent existing infections from entering the campus community during the move-in process. 

The Delta variant is highly transmissible and appears to have a shorter incubation period relative to earlier iterations of the virus. Our initial requirement stipulated a PCR test because they are more sensitive and better able to identify asymptomatic infection, or infection in the early stages prior to the onset of symptoms. Antigen tests, on the other hand, are most reliable confirming infections in symptomatic individuals and, if used, should be administered as close to an individual's arrival date as possible.  That said, in response to questions raised by members of the community who expressed concern about being able to access PCR testing resources in their local area or receiving timely results, we are updating our pre-arrival testing requirement to accept either PCR test results or proctored and documented (see details below) antigen test results for incoming students. These updates align with the CDC guidance for testing for individuals entering the United States. 

Please note that a PCR test taken within 3 days of arrival to Caltech remains strongly preferred. Los Angeles County has made PCR testing resources readily available—and the 72-hour window is generally accepted for entry into events, music venues, restaurants, and other locations with a vaccination requirement.  

  • We have modified the acceptable window for pre-arrival testing to 3 days, rather than 72 hours. This update is to help ensure that students have some flexibility to accommodate potential travel delays, long-haul flights, and prolonged processing times for test results. 
  • As long as international travelers arrive at Caltech directly after travel from their departure location (same day as arrival in the United States), they may use the same negative test result required for entry into the United States for the campus check-in process.
  • All International travelers who are not fully vaccinated must follow the CDC guidelines for unvaccinated travelers, and those who have housing assignments in Caltech-owned properties are required to follow Caltech's travel quarantine process. Students in travel quarantine will be provided access to testing at the end of their quarantine period to be cleared to move into their housing assignments.
  • For domestic students and international travelers without access to PCR tests, and consistent with CDC travel guidelines, we will accept the results of proctored antigen tests including Ellume and the BinaxNow COVID-19 Ag Home Test which are available at many pharmacies and online retailers. These proctored tests include a telehealth appointment and observed collection and produce a result report that can be used to confirm a negative test. 
  • Please note, the BinaxNow two-pack at-home self-test is different and does NOT currently produce a verifiable negative test result report and is not sufficient for fulfillment of the pre-arrival testing requirement. 
  • In many cases, PCR testing is free or low-cost through health insurance, which all students are required to carry. At-home, proctored antigen testing is generally accessible via pharmacies and online retailers at a lower price point. Students whose insurance does not cover testing and who have a demonstrated financial need may contact the relevant dean's office to apply for emergency funding to cover the cost of testing.
  • If you have had a positive viral test for COVID-19 in the past three months, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may present documentation of your positive viral test result and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as "documentation of recovery." A letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official, dated within 90 days of your check-in date and that clears you to end isolation, e.g., to return to work or school, can be used to show you are exempt from the pre-arrival testing requirement and travel quarantine, if applicable. Additionally, individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 within the last 90 days should not participate in the surveillance program for 90 days following their positive test result; please contact covid19@caltech.edu for further consultation and information about managing compliance.

Students who receive a positive result on their pre-arrival testing must delay their travel to campus. They should contact their primary healthcare provider for further instructions and should be in contact with the relevant dean's office and the housing office to arrange a new arrival date when released from their isolation period.

Surveillance Program

Upon arrival to campus, all students will be provided with a saliva self-collection kit for participation in the COVID-19 surveillance program. All students in Caltech-owned housing are required to submit two samples per week through the surveillance program and will be provided instructions for how to submit their first sample on the day of their arrival. Students who arrive during the weekend of September 25 and 26 will receive instructions upon check-in for the submission date of their first samples. Students who do not comply with the surveillance program requirement will be referred to the deans' offices and, in cases of ongoing non-compliance, subject to disciplinary action that may include loss of housing privileges or enrollment. 

Thank you for your attention and compliance with this matter. Testing, along with adherence with the Institute's vaccination, face covering, physical distancing, and campus health and safety protocols, are essential elements of Caltech's risk mitigation strategy. Your cooperation is critical to the successful start of the academic year. We look forward to welcoming you to campus and working together to resume our on-campus living and learning activities, which are central to the Caltech student experience.

We have created FAQs to help further clarify this information, If you have additional questions, please contact Student Wellness Services at covid19@caltech.edu.