Jackie Espitia | Mustang News

In his latest email to the Cal Poly community, President Jeffrey Armstrong addressed concerns about in-person classes amidst a COVID-19 spike — but data he referenced contradicts data on the university’s own COVID-19 Dashboard. 

Armstrong’s Jan. 13 email noted how “[t]he university tested all 21,000+ students within approximately one week of their arrival.” 

Cal Poly’s COVID-19 Dashboard shows something else: the university administered 19,936 COVID-19 tests between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9, the period during which all students were required to test on campus. 

That figure — 19,936 COVID-19 tests — does not refer to the number of unique students who have tested for COVID-19. Testing data on Cal Poly’s COVID-19 Dashboard includes duplicate and triple tests done from all on-campus testing sites, said Aydin Nazmi, one of Cal Poly’s experts guiding the university’s COVID-19 policies and planning. 

There are 20,916 students enrolled in in-person classes for the winter quarter, according to Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier.

On Wednesday, Jan. 12, Mustang News requested from Lazier the number of unique students the university tested for COVID-19 between the mandated Jan. 2 and Jan. 9 testing period. 

“The university has that information, but we aren’t able to provide it today,” Lazier wrote via email, adding that “it would take significant time to get the info.”

It is unclear why Lazier did not share that information with Mustang News when President Armstrong’s email the following day said Cal Poly tested more than 21,000 unique students within their first week on campus.

Furthermore, Armstrong wrote all students have tested through the university. The day prior to Armstrong’s email, Lazier told Mustang News via email that not all students had to do that.  

“Students were not required to test at the on-campus lab, so some students have uploaded results from other sources through their portals,” Lazier said. “Also, students who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 90 days were not required to test this week.” 

Armstrong wrote that 5% of samples collected from asymptomatic students showed presence of the virus. It is unclear why Armstrong chose to only speak to asymptomatic students instead of all students.

Of all tests the university conducted, 6.4% came back positive between the Jan. 2 and Jan. 9 mandated testing period, according to data on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

Cal Poly’s approach to reopening for winter quarter ensured that students who test positive for COVID-19 are separated from those who do not have the coronavirus, Armstrong wrote in his email.

However, residents in on-campus apartments are told to isolate in their rooms even if others living in the same apartment do not have COVID-19, Mustang News confirmed with Lazier

Armstrong also noted that being in-person allowed the university to mandate testing of all students. 

All nine undergraduate UC campuses and some CSU campuses, including Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, have gone virtual temporarily. Administrators from those universities have cited several reasons for doing so. 

One reason UCLA went online for the first two weeks of winter quarter was for students to get tested before being put back into in-person classes, according to the Daily Bruin.

UC Davis Chancellor Gary May extended virtual classes two more weeks due to the scale of the Omicron-induced COVID-19 surge, according to the California Aggie

San Diego State President Adela de la Torre wrote to her students that going online gives students enough time for a COVID-19 booster shot to take full effect, according to the Daily Aztec.

Despite new guidance on masking in Armstrong’s email, the university is not currently providing N95 or KN95 masks to all students.

Beginning the second week of the winter quarter, on-campus testing decreased since all students are not required to test after the first week. 

All COVID-19 testing from the beginning of Week 2 does not reflect all Cal Poly students — only those who are not fully vaccinated and others who voluntarily come in to get tested. 

Other California public universities, including UC Davis and UCLA, have kept in place a testing mandate regardless of students’ vaccination status.

Do you have questions, comments or reactions to President Armstrong’s Jan. 13 email? Contact Data and Investigations Editor Omar Rashad at omarsrashad@protonmail.com.

This story comes from The Hill, a team of data analysts and reporters focused on data-driven and investigative stories at Mustang News. Click here to read more stories from The Hill.

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