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Holiday Travel; Campus Surveillance Testing Program

November 18, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
    David A. Tirrell, Provost 
    Thomas F. Rosenbaum, President
Date: November 18, 2020
Re: Holiday Travel; Campus Surveillance Testing Program

In the last week, we have continued to see a surge in positive cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, with daily counts of new cases of COVID-19 reaching levels not seen since late July. This worrisome trend, which is also playing out across the state and country, serves as an important reminder of the need for all of us to remain diligent in following face covering, physical distancing, and preventative hygiene guidelines. The risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus is high and is likely to continue to be so as we move into the holiday season and end-of-year activities.

As part of an effort to mitigate the risk of disease transmission, state and local authorities recently implemented new restrictive measures aimed at slowing the spread of disease. The Institute is following suit by implementing the following campus measures and recommendations:

  • All nonessential personal travel is discouraged. It is strongly recommended that all members of the community comply with the western states' travel advisories.
  • Participation in any indoor gatherings and other high-risk activities that may elevate the risk of exposure should be limited.
  • Only individuals for whom it is necessary to report onsite for work, research, and instructional responsibilities will be asked do so in the two weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday, beginning November 30 and extending through December 11.
  • The Institute will be piloting a new campus surveillance testing program for all individuals who report to campus during this post-Thanksgiving period, including individuals who briefly visit their offices or laboratories. The program will provide regular SARS-CoV-2 testing of students, faculty, and staff who report onsite.

Additional information on the state's travel advisory and its implications for Caltech community members as well as details regarding the campus surveillance testing program can be found below.  

Western States Travel Advisory

On November 13, the states of CaliforniaWashington, and Oregon announced new travel advisories that encourage individuals to limit or restrict travel away from home, and also recommend individuals arriving in any one of these states from another state or country participate in a self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival or return.
The advisories do not apply to individuals who cross state or country borders for essential travel, which is defined as traveling for work or study, immediate medical care, and other critical services.Caltech fully supports the states' travel advisories and discourages nonessential travel of any kind. As has been the case throughout most of the pandemic, Institute-sponsored travel is only allowed with explicit approval from the reporting division chair, vice president, provost, or president.If you choose to engage in personal travel, you should inform your manager in advance of your trip and, if you decide to self-quarantine in accordance with the state travel advisories, you should consult with Human Resources' Disability Leave and Administration Unit. Individuals with questions on Caltech's travel guidance should visit the Caltech Together site's frequently asked questions section on travel.

On-campus Surveillance Testing Program

To further support the wellbeing of the community during this period of elevated transmission risk, the Institute is launching on November 30 a pilot on-campus surveillance testing program for all individuals who are required to report to campus for onsite work, research, or instructional responsibilities. 
During the two-week pilot, only those individuals who are required to report onsite to fulfill their work, research, and instructional responsibilities should do so. All other individuals who can complete their work remotely should remain off campus. Human Resources will be reaching out directly to managers and supervisors to create a list of those essential on-campus community members who will be expected to participate in the twice-weekly testing program as part of their reporting responsibilities from November 30 through December 11. Individuals who generally access campus less frequently, even to briefly visit their offices or laboratories, should preferably refrain from coming to campus during this two-week period; otherwise, they will need to be tested as part of the pilot program. The surveillance testing program is specifically designed to identify those individuals who are infected but do not know it because they are not otherwise symptomatic. Those 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. Independent of the surveillance testing program, Student Wellness Services 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. Individuals with questions about these testing services may find more information on the Caltech Together website or may email [email protected].Student Wellness Services will provide all participants in the surveillance testing program details on testing requirements, appointment times, and location. Individuals who are tested through the surveillance program will be notified personally of positive test results only. All cumulative test totals will be recorded on Caltech's COVID-19 DashboardFollowing the launch of this pilot program, which has been accelerated in response to concerns over the recent increase in cases across Los Angeles County, the Institute will formalize a long-term surveillance program with the capacity to service a broader segment of the campus community. Student Wellness Services also will continue to work with off-site locations on site-specific expanded testing capabilities and resources. Updates on the Institute's surveillance testing efforts will be provided when available. While the Institute foresees the need to have similar expectations in place over the winter holidays and into the new year, we will reach out with more specific information at a later date, informed by the results of the pilot testing program.

More information about Caltech's response to the pandemic can be found on the Caltech Together coronavirus website.

The recent increase in positive cases in the broader community is not what any of us had hoped to see. We must continue to work together, now with these additional preventative steps, to reverse this trend and slow the spread of COVID-19.