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9/14/2020 - Expectations of Undergraduate Students

To:  Families of the Class of 2024
From: Joseph E. Shepherd, Vice President for Student Affairs 
Kevin M. Gilmartin, Dean of Undergraduate Students and Incoming Vice President for Student Affairs

A significant number of you have found housing in the Pasadena area. We understand that the decision to do so may involve a desire to work, collaborate, and connect with friends, as well as a need to access campus facilities for research. We are writing to urge those of you who will be living locally this fall to exercise the caution and care that are mandated by current public health conditions.

Please understand that the choices you make in social activities can impact your own well-being and ultimately the health and safety of the entire Caltech community. As members of the community, you are expected to follow all relevant Caltech policies and practices when accessing campus facilities, including the use of the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting application every time you come to campus. As the Caltech Community Commitment states, "we all have a responsibility and must commit to practices that protect the health and well-being of the entire community and mitigate the spread of infection on campus."

Research has demonstrated the importance of maintaining physical distance (a minimum of 6ft/2m), wearing face coverings, and practicing good hygiene in reducing the spread of infection. While young adults may statistically be at less risk of serious illness or harm, we have also seen in recent weeks the significant role that this age group plays in driving infections across the country. The spread and potential for transmission of COVID-19 among college-age students was a significant factor in Los Angeles County's August decision to restrict local colleges and universities from bringing undergraduates back for in-person instruction or for campus residency this fall. We take the county's order and related public health advisories seriously, and we expect that you will too.

Those of you who access campus facilities, or interact socially with those who do, bear a significant responsibility towards the entire campus community. Caltech has thus far managed to restart work and research on a limited but significant scale with no known incidents of community transmission. This is a tribute to the seriousness with which faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and staff have taken public health guidelines and campus policies. In allowing undergraduate students to participate in research this fall, despite the fact that instruction remains online, we are trusting you to follow the careful and responsible approach established by your campus colleagues. Undergraduate participation in laboratory research is a distinctive Caltech tradition that allows students to participate centrally in the Institute's research mission. We felt it was important to continue to offer that opportunity to the fullest extent possible. It is now up to you, individually and collectively, to confirm to the campus community that our trust in undergraduate research students has been well placed.

A student who socializes irresponsibly off campus, and as a result transmits infection to others in a lab setting, or to other students working in labs, will endanger the health and well-being of other members of the community, and fundamentally compromise Caltech's research mission. It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of this issue, and the responsibility that every member of our community shares.

We have all seen concerning reports and images of reckless and irresponsible student conduct at other colleges and universities. In many cases, what was previously a common social activity—a party or an evening out with friends—has led directly to COVID-19 transmission, and has forced institutions to discontinue in-person learning and other campus activities. Although fall-term instruction remains online at Caltech, and we have not reopened campus residences, members of the undergraduate community living in the area and accessing campus facilities, or interacting with students who do, will confront the same issues and challenges that have arisen among students at other schools. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to exercise restraint and good judgment. And we advise you that individuals will be held responsible for reckless conduct that puts other members of the Caltech community at risk, even if that conduct takes place off campus. Specific terms for this will be established in advance of the start of fall term.

All students living in the area and accessing campus, or interacting with other students who access campus, will be expected to have read and agreed to the expectation set forth in the Caltech Community Commitment for the 2020-2021 Academic Year. All students should familiarize themselves with the recent Guide for the Caltech Community, and those planning to access campus facilities should learn to use the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. When accessing campus for any purpose, you will be expected to attest to your health and record locations visited on a daily basis. If you are working in a lab, you should discuss with your faculty mentor the health and safety requirements and protocols that are particular to that space so that you clearly understand the expectations for members of the research group. Access to campus facilities is strictly limited to authorized research, and to athletic and other facilities in accordance with established policies. While on campus, students must follow all guidelines for physical distancing and the use of face coverings, and refrain from congregating in ways that are inconsistent with public health guidelines, particularly when accessing the Red Door and dining facilities. Research students will also be expected to follow any self-monitoring and testing protocols that are in place as part of their return to campus; this will include a 14-day self-monitoring period and test prior to accessing campus, as well as possible ongoing testing. Students will be provided additional information about testing procedures after they are approved to engage in research activities.

Students residing in the local community are also expected to comply with the Pasadena Health Officer orders regarding social gatherings. At this time, all gatherings of individuals outside of a household are prohibited. While indoor gatherings of non-household members are particularly risky, the prohibition also extends to outdoor gatherings that are physically distanced. The public health department has been very clear that even when individuals make efforts to mitigate risk associated with social gatherings, community transmission of the virus is most likely to occur during these activities. Thus, our expectation is that students living off campus will abide by these restrictions and refrain from hosting or attending gatherings with individuals outside of their immediate households.

Students in the local community must also be aware of the recommendations around isolation and quarantine procedures in the event that a household member becomes ill. Student Wellness Services staff will provide consultation, medical care, testing, and issue public health instructions for all enrolled students; individuals who are ill or suspect they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should report through the COVID-19 Reporting App or call 626-395-6393. All students must follow recommendations for managing illness or exposure within a household. Ideally, individuals should have access to a private bedroom and bathroom, and if this is not possible, should practice rigorous sanitizing and cleaning procedures for shared spaces.

With the cooperation, understanding, and support of our community members, Caltech has demonstrated a remarkable ability to sustain our singular research and learning mission in the face of the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic. As we look forward to the start of the fall term, we welcome the opportunity to modestly expand our operations to include undergraduate students who are willing to share the responsibility of safely continuing the research enterprise.