Coby Chuang | Mustang News

Cal Poly spent more than $100,000 isolating students off-campus in January after a record-high number of students tested positive for COVID-19, according to documents obtained by Mustang News through a public records request. 

Cal Poly officials signed contracts with three local hotels to isolate COVID-positive students: the Lamplighter Inn, Sands Inn & Suites and Hotel Buena Vista. 

In the first week of January, more than 250 on-campus students tested positive for COVID-19, which was more than four times Cal Poly’s on-campus isolation capacity of 62 beds.

University officials booked 41 rooms in the Lamplighter Inn for $55,442.24, another 20 rooms in Hotel Buena Vista for $25,452 and 13 rooms in Sands Inn & Suites for $16,967.84.

University officials also gave out two dozen $400 university store gift cards — another $9,600 — to students who left campus to isolate at home instead of relying on the university to be isolated on-campus or in a hotel.

In total, off-campus hotel rooms and university store gift cards cost Cal Poly $107,462.08.

“The university engaged off-campus beds because it needed more than the 62 beds available on campus,” Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote to Mustang News on Friday, Jan. 7. 

Besides relocating students to on-campus isolation beds, off-campus hotels or sending them home, university officials also told students who live in on-campus apartments to isolate in their bedrooms even if they lived with others who did not have COVID-19.

All three hotels gave Cal Poly discounted rates, according to obtained documents. A room with a king bed at the Lamplighter Inn cost the university $69 a night. At Hotel Buena Vista, a two queen and 1 king arrangement cost Cal Poly $79.95 a night.

Amidst a COVID-19 surge due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Cal Poly was the only California public university to hold in-person classes three days into 2022.

On Jan. 5, three days into the winter quarter, officials reached out to local hotels to book rooms, according to obtained documents. Following the first week of January, 293 on-campus students were in isolation, university COVID-19 expert Aydin Nazmi confirmed to Mustang News.

During the first week of the winter quarter, it took 10 hours for agricultural business freshman Savannah Kennefick to be relocated to Hotel Buena Vista after taking a PCR test at the Health Center. All she could do was sit in her on-campus dorm, wear a mask and stay away from her roommates as she waited for more instructions, she said.

Kennefick added that in the hours she waited for instructions to get relocated, an isolation and quarantine staff member told her over the phone that the university was “really backed up” in relocating COVID-positive students.

Kennefick said she did not think Cal Poly should have allowed students to attend in-person classes or move back into on-campus dorms without first supplying a negative COVID-19 test result.

“I think it was not a smart decision to even think about returning to campus and not having a negative test and being able to go to in-person classes and at the risk of spreading it to other people — even if you didn’t know you had it,” she said.

Agricultural science freshman Matthew Hendricks also said it was not smart for the university to bring students back to on-campus dorms or in-person classes without testing them first. He attended three in-person classes prior to finding out he was positive for COVID-19.

It took nine hours after he took a PCR test at the health center for isolation staff to contact him with instructions on isolating at Hotel Buena Vista. In that period of time, he called three phone numbers for advice and more information on what to do but did not get through to anyone.

“It was definitely frustrating,” Hendricks said. “Not being able to talk to anybody and just kind of like sitting around, pacing in my room, waiting for what would happen or where to go.”

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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