Since the beginning of fall quarter, a growing number of students have stopped filling out Cal Poly’s daily symptom screener, meaning less students are reporting whether they have COVID-19 symptoms to the university.
Over the first five weeks of the fall quarter, the weekly count of completed daily symptom screeners fell by 32% — from 97,062 completed symptom screeners in Week 1 to 65,564 in Week 5, according to university data.
All enrolled students are required to fill out the daily campus screener if they are accessing on-campus facilities for any reason, according to the Cal Poly website. Currently, there are over 21,000 students with classes that have an in-person component.
The factors contributing to the decline is unclear, but with little to no enforcement of campus passes, some said it makes sense why students aren’t filling out their daily symptom screener as much anymore.
Public health sophomore JP Surrillo said the decline in use is because students don’t take the screener seriously anymore. The screener doesn’t do much besides help people find out if they have COVID-19 symptoms, he added.
Furthermore, enforcing campus passes has fallen almost entirely onto professors. University officials have recommended faculty and staff to check campus passes at the beginning of in-person classes and activities. But many faculty members do not for various reasons.
“Only two out of my four professors check the passes and my bigger lecture hall classes don’t check them,” Surrillo said.
Lewis Call, the president of Cal Poly’s California Faculty Association chapter, wrote to Mustang News in an email that it’s not practical to expect professors to check campus passes at the beginning of each in-person class. So far, he has heard that it can take too long to check campus passes for large lectures and professors don’t want to have to enforce something like that.
“Some faculty don’t like the idea of acting as ‘pass police,’” Call said. “They feel that it’s not really part of a faculty member’s job, and that it would be better to have paid staff checking the passes.”
Students also noted how, besides the lack of enforcement, the daily screener is not effective since it is entirely dependent on students faithfully self-reporting symptoms.
“I feel like it’s not effective because at this point people aren’t even reading what they are clicking on,” food science junior Olivia Davis said. “They’ve memorized which buttons to press without paying attention.”
Business sophomore Luke Moylan said he doesn’t always fill out the daily symptom screener when going to class but does when he visits the recreation center on campus.
“Last year I felt like it was effective because you had to be getting tested to be compliant, but I don’t see it as effective this year because getting tested isn’t required,” Moylan said.
If students self-report on their daily symptom screener that they have coronavirus symptoms or were around others with COVID-19, they’ll be issued a red or yellow campus pass. Unvaccinated students who have not tested weekly are issued a blue campus pass.
Blue, red and yellow campus passes — which indicate a student should not be attending in-person classes or activities — have also declined. In Week 1, 5,214 ineligible campus passes were issued. In Week 5, 1,117 ineligible campus passes were issued.
Besides the daily symptom screener, Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier wrote to Mustang News in an email that the university’s overall approach to minimizing COVID-19 transmission is working well. The high vaccination rate among students, indoor masking and mandatory testing for unvaccinated students are all preventative measures that help too, he added.
“The mitigative impact of the campus pass system depends on students completing their self-screener daily as well as on faculty and staff members checking passes regularly,” Lazier wrote. “Lower numbers are a concern, and administration and staff are monitoring them — and reiterating to the campus community the importance continuing to obtain and check passes.”
Diego Sandoval contributed to this report. 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.