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Campus Surveillance Testing in the New Year
December 21, 2020

To: The Campus Community
From: Jennifer Howes, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Wellness
Date: December 21, 2020
Re: Campus Surveillance Testing in the New Year

I write to provide an update on the Institute's plans for on-campus surveillance testing in the new year. 

Beginning January 5, 2021, all Caltech employees and students reporting to campus for research, instruction, or employment activities will be required to participate in surveillance testing; campus affiliates and contractors who regularly access campus facilities will be encouraged to participate. The screening will occur once or twice a week depending on an individual's reporting frequency. Individuals who are able to perform their duties remotely should continue to do so.

The new year will also bring a move to a saliva-based next-generation sequencing (NGS) test, which will be administered by Student Wellness Services (SWS) in partnership with our testing partner, Swabseq. This reflects the Institute's continuing commitment to screening asymptomatic individuals. Regular surveillance testing has been demonstrated to be an effective tool that mitigates transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within a community. In doing this testing, we can identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals who are infected with the virus, as well as any close contacts they may have had, and guide them through isolation and quarantine periods. 

Through the recent three-week pilot surveillance testing program, which ran from November 30 through December 18, SWS conducted 8,726 tests, of which 37 came back positive for an overall positivity rate of 0.44%. Nearly all the individuals who tested positive via the surveillance testing program were asymptomatic at the time of the test. Individuals who reported to the testing locations and exhibited signs of illness were given a rapid antigen test and confirmatory PCR test away from the main testing site. 

Surveillance testing is part of the reason that the overall number of cases reported among Caltech's community has risen dramatically in the last month, with more than half of all positive cases reported since March occurring since the Thanksgiving holiday. In addition, the rising numbers reflect an overall spike in cases locally and nationwide. 

In resuming surveillance testing in January, the Institute will build on experience gained in the pilot program to establish processes for sustaining COVID-19 surveillance for at least the next several months. 

Anyone who plans to report to campus for work, research, or instructional responsibilities must familiarize themselves with the testing program. All members of the community, even those who participated in the on-campus surveillance testing program in December, must register in the new testing system. 

If you are unsure whether this program will apply to you, please consult with your manager. Human Resources has already contacted all managers and supervisors separately to request by December 23 confirmed lists of personnel reporting to campus between January 4 and 15. After that, managers will verify on a continuing basis which individuals are reporting to campus.

Before you report to campus, please complete the following steps:

Registration

  • If you are identified as someone who must report to campus during the week of January 4, 2021, you will be sent an invitation on or before December 30, 2020, to sign up for your first testing appointment. Immediately after completing your first testing appointment, you will be asked to set up a second appointment, and so on. Please see the information on cohorts to determine if you are required to test two days a week.
  • Please note: If you have had a positive test within the last 90 days you should not participate in the surveillance testing program, as you may continue to test positive even if you are no longer infectious. Contact the Disability and Leave Unit at leaveunit@caltech.edu to obtain an exemption.  

Cohorts

  • If you plan to report to campus a minimum of two days a week, you will be expected to register for twice-weekly tests, with testing administered on a Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday schedule. 
  • If you access campus less frequently, or only plan to drop by on a one-off basis, you will be required to test on the day (Monday-Friday) on which you report to campus.

Testing Operations

  • SWS will administer tests outside of Beckman Auditorium, with entry points on both the East and West sides of the building. 
  • Testing will begin on Tuesday, January 5, and will continue Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Extended hours and weekend coverage, as well as the introduction of self-collection kits to better accommodate individuals' varied reporting schedules, will be implemented in future phases of the program. Information on such offerings will be shared as the services come online.

Process

  • Before coming to campus, log onto the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application. If you are ill, have a fever, or have been exposed to someone with a positive test for COVID-19, stay home and report your symptoms or exposure through the application.
  • If you have no symptoms and no known COVID-19 exposures, report to your assigned location for testing at your scheduled appointment time. (See Registration section above for details on scheduling an appointment.)
  • DO NOT EAT, DRINK, SMOKE, or CHEW GUM for one hour prior to your test.
  • You will be provided with a small specimen tube and a funnel; you will use the funnel to collect saliva in the tube, cap the tube, and place the specimen tube in the collection area.
  • Once you have completed testing, return to your work location to complete your day as planned. Once you have completed the online consent form and any outstanding demographic information for your testing profile, the process, from your arrival at the testing location through completion of testing, should take no more than 5-10 minutes. This counts as paid work time.
  • You will receive your personal testing results directly via text or email through a secure platform. If you test positive, you will be instructed to isolate and you will be contacted by a medical provider for contact tracing and further guidance. Do not return to campus until you are cleared to do so.

If you have additional questions about the testing program, please contact SWS at covid19@caltech.edu; for questions about reporting to campus during this time period, or the testing requirement, please contact Employee & Organizational Development (EOD) at eod@caltech.edu. As always, more information about these and other COVID-19-related issues can be found on the Caltech Together coronavirus website.