Cal Poly is adopting new COVID-19 testing methods that will help increase testing for winter quarter amid a spike in virus infections, President Jeffrey Armstrong announced Tuesday, Nov. 10.  

Armstrong wrote in a campus-wide email that on-campus experts created a SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance Lab, which will take saliva samples rather than the “more invasive” nasal swab test and be able to process results directly on campus. 

The university estimated that the switch to saliva testing will be able to achieve 4,000 tests each day by mid-January. 

Students who will be on-campus next quarter will have to prove they tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their first arrival, or at least within the past seven days, Armstrong said. 

On-campus students will test at least once a week for the first two weeks of the quarter, though Armstrong said “many students” will be tested twice per week. As winter quarter progresses, the university said they will adapt their plan based on advice from experts. 

Armstrong said that in recent weeks, the university had gone through the process for validating their saliva tests, which “passed with flying colors.” 

The university is also developing on-campus wastewater testing. Wastewater may show signs of COVID-19 infections, but direct exposure to wastewater has not been proven to cause a new COVID-19 infection, according to the Center for Disease Control

These tests may help the university find positive COVID-19 cases within a specific population on campus — such as a residence hall — then apply individual tests and track the source of the infection. 

“I am extremely proud to say that both our saliva-based testing and wastewater screening capabilities have been developed by our own faculty, staff and students,” Armstrong said. “Their innovative work has Cal Poly on the cutting edge, even during the extraordinary challenge of the pandemic.”

In addition to the stronger testing capabilities, Armstrong said the university’s contact tracing has helped to identify infections “fairly early.” But he added that precautions such as masks, social distancing and quarantine rules are also important.

“Testing won’t beat the virus by itself,” Armstrong said. “We know how to slow the spread of coronavirus. Now let’s all commit to doing what it takes for as long as it takes.”

According to Armstrong, Campus Health and Wellbeing and its partners have conducted about 22,000 COVID-19 tests of students. As of Nov. 9, 463 of those tests were positive — a positivity rate of about 2%. No students have been hospitalized while recovering from the virus. 

More than 1,100 faculty and staff have been tested, with two positive tests so far. 

“The large numbers of tests that we were administering helped to keep the overall county numbers better than they otherwise would have been,” Armstrong said. 

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