This letter was originally published online by the writers on Dec. 13, 2020. On Dec. 17, President Jeffrey Armstrong announced that all students, living on and off campus, are required to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week during winter quarter. As of Dec. 30, 299 people had signed the letter. The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

An open letter to the Cal Poly and SLO community: 

Winter break is always a time for reflection on our past year and planning for the future. This year our planning for the Winter 2021 quarter must be guided by a sober and realistic assessment of the pandemic conditions we face. Nationally and statewide, cases have increased to record levels, with over 200,000 new infections per day in early December. Multiple regions across California have seen exponential increases in hospitalizations and ICU capacity at crisis levels. Here in San Luis Obispo County, Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are all rising sharply. 

In light of these conditions, the CSU Chancellor’s office has urged all campuses to delay face-to-face instruction until late January or later. Yet just last week, in contrast to CSU guidance, Cal Poly administrators affirmed that we will resume in-person instruction beginning January 4. Campus move-in times will be staggered throughout the first week of January, but no further efforts will be made to de-densify dormitories or to encourage students who can to remain at home with their families.

Cal Poly’s refusal to comply with CSU and accepted public health recommendations is nothing new. Last summer, despite CSU-wide directives, Cal Poly petitioned to populate its dorms and offer in-person classes at levels far greater than other CSU campuses. The university ignored widespread public health recommendations and proposed limiting testing to just symptomatic students. Only in response to significant public pressure — and direct intervention from the county — did the university grudgingly change course. But even then, Cal Poly failed to meet nearly every testing benchmark it set, including its promise to provide 10,000 exit tests for students before Thanksgiving break. The university offered no coherent program or incentive for off-campus students to get tested regularly.

The results are extremely disturbing. By the end of fall term, hundreds of students had been infected. The outbreak was the second worst in the entire state. Roughly 5% of all students living in Cal Poly dorms contracted Covid-19. At various points in November, a quarter of all students living in the dorms were either in isolation or some form of quarantine. Campus housing ran out of isolation beds and isolated students in a local hotel, risking exposure to hotel employees and community members. County data shows skyrocketing numbers of infections among college-age individuals, including Cal Poly students living on and off campus.

These are dangerous and disruptive conditions for community health and student success.

Cal Poly has promised more frequent testing in the winter quarter, but their current surveillance testing proposal still lags behind best practices, which call for continuous testing of all students every 1-3 days, for the entire duration of the term. Cal Poly has promised to conduct twice-a-week testing only for the first two weeks of the quarter. Given Cal Poly’s repeated failure to meet testing benchmarks this past fall, we are concerned they will fail to meet even these weak goals.

Our sister campus, Cal Poly Pomona, embraces the learn by doing motto just as we do. Cal Poly Pomona offers the same kinds of academic programs in agriculture, engineering, architecture, and science, yet Cal Poly Pomona offered only 2.6% of fall classes with in-person contact. Unlike Cal Poly SLO, which housed over 4,000 students on campus this past fall, Cal Poly Pomona housed only 500 students in dorms. Notably, fewer than 100 students, faculty, and staff at Pomona have tested positive for Covid-19. 

We urge our our administrators to heed the call by the CSU Chancellor and Chancellor-select and take the following actions:

  • Delay face-to-face instruction and move toward a fully virtual Winter Quarter.  Most Cal State Universities have already made this same commitment to protecting campus health, including our sister school, Cal Poly Pomona. Cal Poly should delay face-to-face instruction until the end of January or later to get through the holiday surge. Because the quarter system is so short, the less disruptive action would be to commit to a fully virtual Winter Quarter.
  • Further de-densify the dorms. Encourage students to complete virtual courses from their homes if they can do so safely. Cal Poly administrators have argued that students are safer when they are living under university supervision, but the outbreak in the dorms this past fall throws doubt on that assertion. Now is the time to minimize congregate living in the county.
  • Guarantee at least twice weekly student testing prior to having students back on campus. Students need to be tested 2-3x a week consistently, starting in the first week and continuing through the entire duration of the quarter. Frequent testing can swiftly detect outbreaks and enable the contact tracing and quick isolation necessary to limit further spread.

With a surge in cases driven by the holidays, hospital beds and ICUs filling across the state and country, and effective vaccines on the horizon, the only ethical choice is to delay in-person instruction, drastically reduce the number of students in congregate housing, and dramatically expand testing and contact tracing. Hopefully, the general population will receive the vaccine(s) by late spring, and may reach levels of community protection by summer.  

We all look forward to when we can be back together. As a public institution of higher education, Cal Poly has a moral duty to help our community make it through this crisis. Thus far, Cal Poly has not taken this obligation seriously. Let’s do better in 2021.  (Sign the letter here)

Signed,

Candace Winstead, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Sandi Clement, Faculty, Biological Sciences 

Christy Strand, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Charles A. Knight, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Gita Kolluru, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Heather Liwanag, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Grace Goschke, Faculty, Biological Science

Nishanta Rajakaruna, Faculty, Biology/Housing

Alejandra Yep, Faculty, Biological Sciences

Jennifer N. Phillips, Postdoctoral Researcher, Biological Sciences

Ashley McDonald, Faculty, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Brenda Helmbrecht, Faculty, English

Lewis Call, Faculty, Professor of History / California Faculty Association SLO President

Sarah Bridger, Faculty, History Department

Stan Yoshinobu, Faculty, Math Department

Charles D. Camp, Faculty, Mathematics

Brett Bodemer, Faculty, Kennedy Library

Kaila Bussert, Faculty, Library

Anonymous, Faculty, College of Science and Mathematics

Anonymous, Faculty

Neal MacDougall, Faculty, Agribusiness Department

M. Bodemer, Faculty, History lecturer 

Colleen Marlow, Faculty, Physics

Christopher Culbreath, Faculty, Physics

Marilyn Tseng, Faculty, Kinesiology and Public Health

Katharina Gillen, Faculty, Physics

David Mitchell, Faculty, Physics & Liberal Studies

Erin Pearse, Faculty, Mathematics

Alice Hamrick, Staff, Biological Sciences

Anonymous, Student, Biological Sciences

Anonymous, Alumni

Anonymous, Staff

Anonymous, Staff, Housing

Ahmed Deif, Faculty, ITP, OCOB

Ryan Anthony Hatch, Faculty, English

Julee Bauer, Faculty, School of Education

Alison Stevens, Staff

Anonymous, Faculty

Harvey Greenwald, Emeritus, Mathematics

Adrienne Greve, Faculty, City and Regional Planning

Briana Ronan, Faculty, School of Education

Morgan White, Faculty, English 

Anonymous, Staff and Student, Biological Sciences

Paul Marchbanks, Faculty, English

Luanne Fose, Staff, CTLT

Caleb Nichols, Staff, Kennedy Library

Sarah Lester, Faculty, Kennedy Library

Anonymous, Staff, Office of the Registrar

Christine, Staff

Steven Ruszczycky, Faculty, English, Women’s & Gender Studies

Anonymous, Staff

Molly Loberg, Faculty, History Department

Jay Devore, Emeritus Faculty, Statistics

Jason Peters, Faculty, English

Anonymous, Faculty

Jason Linn, Faculty, History lecturer

Anonymous, Faculty, Mathematics

Anonymous, Staff, Campus Student Health/ Well-being 

Anonymous, Staff, Campus Health & Wellbeing

Chad Immoos, Faculty, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Vardha N. Bennert, Faculty, Physics

Lizabeth Thompson Schlemer, Faculty, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering 

Vickie Bryant, Community home owner, Resident of SLO

Mike Didonna, Person

Michael, Community member

Eric LeRoy, community 

Todd Pierce, Faculty, English

Anonymous, SLO resident

Kristi Weddige, Staff, CSM Student Services

Margaret Haugen, Staff, Campus health and well-being 

Brad Campbell, Faculty, English

Marin Smith, Faculty, English lecturer 

Anonymous, SLO resident 

Catherine Waitinas, Faculty, English

Anonymous, Staff, Campus Health & Well-Being

Anonymous, Faculty

Anonymous, Staff

Cal Poly Staff and SLO Resident, Riley Chestnut

Audrey Garces, Alumni, Biological Sciences

Daniel Howes, Faculty, BRAE

Javier de la Fuente, Faculty, Industrial Technology & Packaging

Cameron Jones, Faculty, History Department

James Mealy, Faculty, Electrical Engineering

Marion Hart, Faculty, WLC / COMS lecturer

Hugh Smith, Faculty, CSSE

Anonymous, Faculty, PHIL

Kelly Main, Faculty, City and Regional Planning

Robert D Clark, Faculty, Kinesiology & Public Health

Daniel Almeida, Faculty, School of Education

John Saghri, Faculty – Professor, Electrical Engineering Dept.

Alan L. Kiste, Faculty, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Bruno Ribeiro, Faculty, Graphic Communication

Anonymous, Faculty, CH&W Counseling Services

John Hagen, Faculty, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Erica Fryer, Staff, Office of the Registrar

Debora Schwartz, Faculty, English

Andrew Byrne, Faculty, School of Education

Ben Lutz, Faculty, Mechanical Engineering

Kris Jankovitz, Faculty, Kinesiology & Public Health

Lecturer, Faculty, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Anonymous, Staff

Anonymous, Faculty

Martine Lappé, Faculty, Social Sciences Department

Amber Williams, Faculty, Psychology & Child Development

Jean Williams, Faculty, Political Science

Paul Hiltpold, Faculty, Emeritus

Dylan Armitage, Spouse of grad student

Ray Fernando, Faculty, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Jafra Thomas, Faculty, Dpt. Kinesiology & Public Health

Francis Villablanca, Faculty, CSM

Terry Brogno, SLO resident

Anonymous, Faculty

Elizabeth Adan, Faculty, WGS / ISLA

Tony Prado, Faculty, Journalism

Kenichiro Kurihara, Partner of Staff, Campus health and well-being

H. Palandoken, Faculty, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Yiwen Chiu, Faculty, CAFES

Isabell Hope Garcia, Faculty, English

Grace Yeh, Faculty, Ethnic Studies/Communication Studies

Karen Muñoz-Christian, Faculty, World Languages & Cultures

Lorraine Donegan, Faculty, Graphic Communication

Anonymous, Student, Psychology

Janine Marion, Community Healthcare worker

Lynne Oliverius, Community member

Robert Campbell, MD, Retired physician, SLO County Health Commission Member, Community resident

Michael Wollman, Faculty, Electrical Engineering

Laura Ríos, Faculty, physics

Joe Fram, Citizen of SLO, Engineering (retired)

Leah Nielsen, community member

Laura Cooper, Community member, business owner

Anonymous, Faculty

Anonymous, Staff, CHW

Anonymous, Faculty, CAFES

Nick Bryden, Staff, Financial Aid Office

Anonymous, Faculty, Animal Science

Anonymous, Staff, Kennedy Library

Jim McKrell, Alumni, CE

C.T. Aradanas, Faculty, Ethnic Studies / Social Sciences

Jennifer Bates, Faculty, English

Kylie Parrotta, Faculty, Social Sciences

Suzanne Phelan, Faculty, Kinesiology & Public Health

Chris Cooper, resident of San Luis Obispo

Anonymous, Faculty, College of Science and Mathematics

Peggy Papathakis, Faculty, Food Science and Nutrition

Olivia Wallin, Student

Anonymous, Faculty, Biology

Anonymous, Faculty, OCOB/Accounting

Julie Rodgers, Faculty, psychology

Connor Ellis, Student, History major

Anonymous, community member 

Anonymous, Student, Wvit

Randy Harris, Retired SLO resident

Jeziel Lopez, Student, Electrical Engineering

Catherine Franklin, Graduate

Caleb Armendariz, Student, Biological Sciences Major

Anonymous, Student, NRES

Karan Singh, Student, Electrical Engineering

Jillian, Local alumni, Psychology 

Anonymous, Student

Kailey Cox, Cal Poly Alum/SLO resident

Elizabeth Sine, Faculty, History Department

Camille O’Bryant, Faculty, Kinesiology and Public Health/CSM

Jeong-Ah Lee, Faculty, Physics

Johanna Rubba, Emerita, English

Lauren Kolodziejski, Faculty, Communication Studies

Nathan Perry, Faculty, History Department

Anonymous, Both Faculty and Staff

Ren Blanding, Student, CLA

Anonymous, Staff 

Sarah Horne, Staff, Office of the Registrar

Cole Coward, Student, English

A concerned mustang alumni

Student, Computer Science

Aaron H, Student

Don Choi, Faculty, Architecture

Jessica Garcés, Student, English

Anonymous, Student

Katie Champ, Student, NRES

Madison Parrot, Student, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Anonymous, Student, Child Development

Anonymous, Staff, Campus Health & Wellbeing

Anonymous, Student

Anonymous, Student

Jonathan Bartel, Faculty, English

Rosemary Wrenn, Faculty, SOE/LS

Anonymous, Student, CE

Connie Hanretty Church, Faculty, Psychology

Eric J. Kantorowski, Faculty, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Farah Al-Nakib, Faculty, History

Erin Martin Elston, Faculty, English Lecturer

Michael J. Costello, Faculty, Wine and Viticulture Department

Cassandra Sherburne, Staff

Anonymous, Student

Steve Klisch, Faculty, Mechanical Engineering

Charith Sunku, Student, Engineering

Paul Miklowitz, Faculty, CLA/Philosophy

Anonymous, Student

Amanda Adelman, Alumni

Anonymous, Student

Sue Brock, Faculty Emeritus, Communication Studies

R.G. Cravens, Faculty, Political Science

Bruce Rogstad, Student, Electrical Engineering 

Seth Gibeaut, community member

Kira Boyd, Student, Psychology

Anonymous, Faculty, College of Science and Mathematics/Math

Gabriel Anderson, Student, Experience Industry Management

Daniel Kirkpatrick, Alumni, Computer Science

Anonymous, Faculty, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Diego Manuel Chavez, Student, Orfalea College of Business

Jose Alvarado, Staff, Strawberry Center/ CAFES- Also Resident of SLO 

Andy Sazima, Student, Civil Engineering

Amani Arora, Student

John Thompson, Faculty, World Languages and Cultures

Kevin Fagan, Faculty, World Languages and Cultures

Suhyun Lee, Student

Dan B, Student

Anonymous, Student

Aubrie Adams, Faculty, Communication Studies 

Taylor Smith, Faculty, Psychology and Child Development

Jessica Kaczorowski, Faculty, PSY/CD

Ryan Solorzano, Student, Computer Science 

Charmaine Martinez, Faculty, Art and Design

Emily Vose, Community member 

Jared Friedman, Student, NRES

Anonymous, Student, Business

Kristen Lewis, Student, Biology

Pete Nisburg, Student, Gender Studies

Jorge Coronel, Student

Hai Tri Tran, Student, AERO

Victor Valle, Faculty, Ethnic Studies

Sophia Forster, Faculty, English

CMK, Concerned alumnus and SLO local

Anonymous, Faculty

Anonymous, Student, CS

Anonymous, Student, Orfalea College of Business

Mary García-Lemus, Faculty, Psychology 

Dae Jin Park, Student, Mechanical Engineering

Anonymous, Student, College of Engineering

Anonymous, Student, EE

Tyler Sanchez, Student

Sarah Zukoff, Faculty, Strawberry Center

David Zoller, Faculty, Philosophy

Brian S. Balberchak, Alumni, Computer Engineering

David Kann, Emeritus Faculty, English

Anonymous, Staff, UNIT 9

Nicole Rivera, Staff and Student, ISLA

Anonymous, Student, Orfalea College of Business

Mercedes Rutherford-Patten, Staff, Library

Kim Bisheff, Faculty, Journalism

C. Ritch Woffinden, Faculty, Communication Studies

Madeleine Ignon, Lecturer, Art

Anonymous, Student, Civil Engineering 

Anonymous, Student, EE

Kelsey Davis, Staff, Journalism

Anuraj Dhillon, Faculty, Communication Studies Department 

Laura Cacciamani, Faculty, Psychology & Child Development

Marc Horney, Faculty, CAFES/ASCI

Heather L. Cribbs, Faculty, Kennedy Library

Anonymous, Faculty, Kinesiology & Public Health

Anonymous, Student

Carrie Langner, Faculty, Psychology

Anonymous, Parent

Jeff Nadel, Staff, College of Engineering

Jason Chang, Student, ME

Madison Watson, Student

Matt Beekman, Faculty, Physics Department

Belen Areli Padilla, Student, Psychology 

April Olvera Dominguez, Student, CAFES

Mariely Caraballo, Student, EE

Anders M. Bjork, Student, Engineering

Anonymous, Student

Anonymous, Retired community member

Maria Lopez Neri, Student, CAFES

Richa Gadgil, Student, Computer Science 

Anonymous, Student, Psychology 

Anonymous, Student

Manuela Cruz, Student, COSAM 

Michael Pasetta, Parent of a Student

Olivia Miele, Student, Orfalea College of Business 

Milo Cohen, Student, Aerospace Engineering

David Gillette, Faculty, LAES/English

Katie McCormick, Faculty, Art and Design

Anonymous, Faculty, Engineering

Pete Schwartz, Faculty, Physics

Anna Kelly, Faculty, SOE

Anonymous, Parent

T Onuma, parent

Sean Green, Faculty, English

Adrian Tenney, Student, Landscape Architecture, Cal Poly Pomona

Parent

Parent, Engineering 

Anonymous, Student, English department

Kathy Mastako, Staff Emeritus, Community member

Anahi Diaz, Student, Biology

Glen Gillen, Faculty, Physics Department

Anonymous, Student

Jo Nibbio, Community member

Anonymous, Faculty, CAFES

Gabriella Richardson, Student, Biological Sciences

Anonymous, Parent, EE

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