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Students must test negative for COVID-19 72 hours before going on-campus to live in the dorms, attend a class or receive services, Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey wrote in a campus-wide email.

If students cannot get test results that quickly, they can submit a test taken within seven days before attending campus, Humphrey wrote. 

Students who are unable to get tested can still move into the dorms, and the campus health center will help them find a test in San Luis Obispo, Humphrey wrote. 

The test must be a diagnostic test, which determines if the virus is active in the body at the time of the test, not an antibody test, which detects if the patient has been sick with COVID-19 at some point. 

The purpose of doing baseline testing is to find out how many people have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, and prevent them from spreading the virus, Medical Director of Dignity Health California Central Coast Laboratory Services Kevin Ferguson said in a town hall on Thursday. 

Students can get a COVID-19 test in their hometown at community testing centers, or they can order an FDA approved self-testing kit, which takes about five days to receive in the mail and provide results. Insurance may cover self-testing kits, Humphrey wrote. 

Students can also get tested at a San Luis Obispo location as well, Humphrey wrote. 

Cal Poly’s Health Center can handle 600 COVID-19 tests a day, and provides results in about 24 hours, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Health and Wellbeing Tina Hadaway-Mellis said at the town hall. 

Students should call to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 test at the Health Center, and a medical provider will perform the test. The health center will call them 24 hours later with their test result, Hadaway-Mellis said. 

“The ability to do the testing right here at Cal Poly means that we can do much more aggressive contact tracing,” Ferguson said. “We get those results back right away, and then we can look for contacts of additional positive people so we can widen the circle as needed quickly based on that information.”

Contact tracing

Cal Poly has seven contact tracers and is recruiting daily to hire more, Hadaway-Mellis said. Cal Poly is required to have three contact tracers per 18,000 to 20,000 people, but they are working to exceed that metric, she said. 

Cal Poly collects student contact information before their test goes to the lab, so they are able to contact them immediately with results.

Cal Poly contact tracers then collaborate with county contact tracers to inform close contacts of the infected person that they could have the virus, Hadaway-Mellis said.

A person is considered a close contact if they have been within six feet of someone for fifteen minutes or longer, whether or not they were wearing a face mask, Faculty Fellow for COVID-19 Response and Preparedness Aydin Nazmi said at the town hall. 

In contact tracing, it is important not to test close contacts immediately, Chief Medical Officer of Arroyo Grande Hospital said at the town hall. 

The incubation period of the virus is two to 14 days, and most people develop a detectable amount of the virus in their body five or six days after exposure, so it is best to test during that window, Ritter said.


If a student living on-campus tests positive for COVID-19, they will be required to isolate in a single dorm or a separate space with other students who have tested positive for COVID-19, Hadaway-Mellis said at the town hall.

An isolation team will deliver meals and do laundry for students in isolation, and students will be instructed to seek medical help at an urgent care or emergency room if they have a high fever or difficulty breathing, Hadaway-Mellis said. 

Health officials will decide on a case by case basis if students who test positive are allowed to return to their permanent residence to isolate. They would not be able to take a plane, bus or train home, County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein said at the town hall. 

Symptoms to look out for

College students with COVID-19 can have mild, allergy-like symptoms, such as a runny nose or sore throat, in addition to loss of taste and smell. They will not always have a fever and cough, Ferguson said. 

“Things that you might have blown off in the past, they might be a reason to go to Campus Health and Wellbeing and have that discussion,” Ferguson said. “Things that may seem minimal, that may have been ignored in the past, in this population, those are symptoms.”

Safe behavior

In addition to wearing a mask, Borenstein recommended that students build groups of two or three people to spend time with to build a safer social bubble. 

Armstrong said at the town hall that large, off-campus social gatherings are the greatest risks to large spikes of COVID-19 in the county. 

Future plans

Without a vaccine, instruction in winter and spring quarter will likely be delivered in a hybrid format like fall quarter, with only the necessary classes in person, Armstrong said at the town hall.

The ever-changing nature of the virus means that Cal Poly cannot completely predict what future quarters will look like, Nazmi said. 

“The technology we have now, the protocols we have in place now, could very well change quickly,” Nazmi said. “From fall quarter to winter quarter, you could see Cal Poly change gears [and] approach the issue quite differently.” 

Throughout this process, Nazmi said we need to remember to wash our hands, socially distance, wear face coverings and take care of our health.

“COVID is not going anywhere even with a vaccine, it will be with us for the next several years,” Nazmi said. “It is a long term situation, and it is very dynamic. With that, we should all remember that it is preventable, and it is within our hands — it’s in your hands — to bring the spread down.”

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