Credit: Grace Curtis | Mustang News

This story was updated Jan. 11 at 6:45 p.m. with additional information from Cal Poly’s Director of Media Relations Matt Lazier

San Luis Obispo residents are raising concerns of a COVID-19 testing backlog in the community as students move back to Cal Poly for Winter Quarter — this time with more frequent testing requirements to fill.

Morgan Philbin, an assistant professor of Public Health at Columbia University and a current San Luis Obispo resident, said she is worried students are going off-campus to get tested for COVID-19 rather than on-campus. Meanwhile, the community is already having trouble providing quick appointment availability to non-student residents after the holidays, according to Philbin.

“They have to make it clear [to the students] that they shouldn’t go to the county, that they should go to Cal Poly,” Philbin said. “Cal Poly needs to test all of its own people … and they need to make sure the student can get in like the same day or the next day.”

Although the university cannot require students to get tested on-campus as opposed to off-campus, Cal Poly Director of Media Relations Matt Lazier said “they are strongly encouraged to do so.”

During Fall Quarter, when there was a surge of COVID-19 cases among students, Philbin said she recalls times when it took about two weeks from the first onset of symptoms to get a COVID-19 test and results for people in the community.

This problem has risen again. Philbin said she checked appointment availability in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 3. The soonest appointment available was about five days later, and many testing sites tell their patients they must wait another four to six days before they will get their results.

“It becomes almost not worth testing,” Philbin said. “At that point, you’ve almost reached your quarantine period. So that’s a big problem.”

She said that it is unreasonable for people to be expected to self quarantine if they can’t get a test result quick enough. For people who are essential workers or need to continue to go to work to pay for rent or food, they can’t afford to stay home unless they know for sure they have COVID-19, according to Philbin.

Philbin also said she wishes that Cal Poly would do more than just get students tested, such as emphasizing the risks of spreading the virus to other community members and encouraging students to keep social activities in outdoor settings. 

She recalls back in October when students were ridiculed for attending a Pirates Cove gathering, and said that, even though students were probably doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, at least they were outside instead of “drinking in a basement frat party with no ventilation.”

Additionally, she said she would like to see Cal Poly create a better dialogue with the surrounding community since the presence of students in San Luis Obispo has such a big effect on the community. She said that Cal Poly has been announcing what they plan to do in terms of when and how students may return, but haven’t strongly considered what the community thinks about those plans. 

“I think there’s a growing frustration that people in San Luis Obispo aren’t really being heard, and that the money that students bring in and that they pay for housing is actually being deemed more important than the public health of the community,” Philbin said.

Lazier said that Cal Poly will continue to emphasize to students to “embrace their personal responsibility to slow the spread of the virus.”

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