Cal Poly officials have begun telling students with COVID-19 who live in on-campus dorms to isolate in place, even if they live with roommates in the same room and live on residence halls with over 20 people on the same floor, President Jeffrey Armstrong told Mustang News.

Until now, the isolate-in-place policy was limited to student residents living in on-campus apartments, who live in single rooms and have lower resident occupancies compared to dorms. Armstrong said he is expanding the policy to include those living in dorms in advance of running out of on-campus isolation beds.

Due to a new spike in COVID-19 cases on campus, Armstrong said the university is close to maximum capacity for on-campus isolation beds. On Friday, the COVID-19 dashboard reported 48 students living on campus and 28 students living off campus tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week.Of the 48 total isolation beds at Cal Poly, 41 are occupied and 42 students are currently in isolation.

Expanding the isolate-in-place policy was also done in lieu of putting students in local hotels — like officials did in January, spending $107,462.08 putting COVID-positive students in three local hotels. Armstrong was unsure of availability in local hotels at this time.

“It’s pretty clear to everyone that hotel and tourism and occupancy rates are back to near-normal now versus during the pandemic,” Armstrong said.In on-campus residence halls, COVID-positive student residents are required to wear a mask when they are around other residents who do not have COVID-19. This includes COVID-positive student residents who live with one other person in the same room.

Armstrong said COVID-positive student residents are recommended to go to the restroom when “restroom traffic is low,” since they share restrooms with all residents who live on the same floor.

Armstrong added that COVID-positive student residents likely already expose roommates to the virus within 24 to 48 hours of testing positive for the virus, “so there’s already been exposure.”The shift in policy is due to the current dominant variants of COVID-19 being less severe, Armstrong said. He added we’ve reached the point where COVID-19 is endemic.

Some schools mandate masks indoors, not Cal Poly

Both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara announced Thursday that an indoor mask mandate will be reinstated regardless of vaccination status starting Friday. As of the week of May 22, UC Santa Barbara’s COVID-19 positivity rate was at 7.96%. For UCLA, the COVID-19 positivity rate of PCR surveillance tests was at 2.8% for the week of May 21.

The current positivity rate at Cal Poly through on-campus testing is 11.83% as of May 26. Earlier in the spring quarter, the last peak of positive COVID-19 cases was seen on April 11 at 0.86% for the seven-day period. The current positivity rate is 11 times higher than that.

Armstrong said that the university will require masks if officials see a need for a mask mandate. Right now, officials do not see a need for one. 

The current positivity rate is increasing, though not as high as the rates at the beginning of winter quarter, where positivity rates of COVID-19 peaked at an all-time high, Mustang News previously reported. 

Armstrong noted that a vast majority of Cal Poly students are vaccinated or boosted. He did not respond to questions about a drop in vaccine efficacy following three months of getting vaccinated.

He maintained that the university makes public health decisions with experts, which are approved by San Luis Obispo County’s public health department.  

In March, County Public Health Health Officer Penny Borenstein told Mustang News that the county’s relationship with Cal Poly is nothing more than confirming whether university policies are legal or reasonable.

In San Luis Obispo County there have been 586 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, with 13 residents in the ICU, according to what San Luis Obispo County Public Health wrote in a news release on Wednesday.

“The more highly-contagious BA.2.12.1 variant is likely driving this increase, which includes some re-infections of people who had an earlier strain of Omicron during the recent winter surge,” County Public Health wrote in the release.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.