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Return to Campus FAQ

Updated June 18, 2020

The resumption of campus activities will not be a single event, but rather a gradual, phased reengagement of operations and functions. Critical research remains underway on campus, including COVID-related projects. Staff from Facilities, Campus Security, and other administrative units necessary to keep critical campus operations running are also currently reporting to campus, with directives to follow public health guidance on physical distancing, hygiene, and face coverings.

The initial return to on-campus activities will prioritize the phased, reactivation of research and the staff and services necessary to support the research enterprise.

We have established five planning committees to explore various elements related the return to campus: research, instruction, testing for COVID-19, workplace resumption, and student affairs. All of these groups meet several times a week, and then report recommendations to an executive policy group that meets daily and includes the president, provost, general counsel, vice presidents, and other administrative leaders.

Caltech is following the guidance of state, county, and local health authorities as we navigate the process of resuming on-campus activities. Metrics being considered include the stabilization of COVID-19 hospitalizations; reductions in new cases and deaths; the capacity of the healthcare system to handle demand for services; and the ability to engage in testing, contact tracing, and appropriate isolation and quarantine practices. Some areas of the state may open ahead of others; for Caltech, the determining factor will be the disease activity within the Los Angeles County and Pasadena areas.

In accordance with local public health guidelines, community members will be required to wear cloth face coverings on campus and will need to follow recommended risk-reduction protocols, such as hand-washing and physical distancing. In limited settings, for example, individuals who are alone in a workspace may remove their face coverings.

Caltech will provide two reusable cloth face coverings to each person on the campus, as well as disposable single-use face coverings for visitors or anyone who forgets to bring theirs.

A mask is a disposable piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that provides a barrier of protection for the wearer. It can also can be worn by an infected person to prevent them from spreading large particle droplets. Though they can be used as a face covering, their use should be prioritized for health care workers in patient care and patient isolation settings.

Cloth face coverings are not PPE, rather they are considered a community or social protective equipment. They can be homemade, allow for breathing without restriction, and should cover the nose and mouth, fitting snugly and comfortably against the side of the face. The cloth face covering is meant to protect others by preventing the wearer from accidentally spreading disease.

Buildings on campus have continued to be cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis since the safer-at-home orders were instituted. We are following the recommendations and guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures. We have also trained the custodial staff to sanitize rooms and equipment more thoroughly and specifically to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As the reoccupation of campus begins, cleaning frequency will be increased. In addition, Caltech will provide sanitizing supplies to offices and laboratories upon request.

Disinfecting refers to the ability to kill 100 percent of a targeted microorganism and is a level of cleaning that is deployed when/if there is a confirmed positive case for COVID-19 in a campus facility or residence.

Caltech's custodial crew is providing routine sanitizing service that aims to prevent the accumulation of microorganisms in general, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus, on surfaces or in spaces across campus.

Frequent handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to kill the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. However, when soap and water are not immediately available, hand-sanitizer can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. As they become available, hand-sanitizer stations will be installed at entry points to main laboratory buildings and other high-traffic facilities.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ) have issued recommendations to ensure building HVAC systems provide the best and cleanest possible working environment for returning staff, faculty, and eventually students.

Following these recommendations, we are taking the following steps for all campus buildings:

- Assess building HVAC systems to verify they are operating properly and have received the appropriate scheduled maintenance, including filter changes.

- Override any sensors that would reduce ventilation

- Set HVAC systems to either run 24/7, or are set to run additional hours at the beginning and end of the normal cycle.

- Ensure that restrooms exhaust fans operate 24/7.  Keep restroom doors and windows closed to maintain restrooms negative air pressure.

- Improve circulation of outside air where possible. Buildings with reduced occupancy will have greater outside air supply per person than normal occupancy.

Everyone who comes to campus to perform research or other work will be asked to do the following:

  • Stay at home if they are sick, or if they have been in close proximity to someone who shows flu-like or cold-like symptoms even if symptoms are mild.
  • Comply with COVID-19 testing if they are symptomatic, if they come into close contact with someone who is COVID-19-positive, or if the Institute establishes a screening process.
  • Receive the flu vaccine when it becomes available unless they are exempted for medical reasons.
  • Monitor certain physical symptoms every day, and certifying every day to the Institute that they have been asymptomatic over the previous 14 days.
  • Maintain a log of transit on campus, including route travelled, buildings visited, and rooms visited for each day they are on campus.
  • Comply with temperature testing or other health monitoring measures on campus.
  • Wear a face covering (disposable or cloth face covering) at all times, wash hands frequently, and follow all required physical distancing and safety protocols.

Caltech has a committee exploring a variety of possible approaches to testing in order to develop a plan that is scientifically grounded, informed by public health and epidemiology expertise, and sustainable in terms of resources and community participation. We will have the capacity to test individuals who become ill on campus, as well as people with whom they have come in close contact.

Testing individuals before they return to campus is one possible way to identify a likely small number of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals, but is not a panacea; all it does is provide an understanding of the status of those individuals on the day of testing. We're exploring the possibility of testing community members on a continuing basis, an approach that would require an increased availability of testing materials, as well as more reliable and consistent testing technologies that are also cost-effective. However, we are exploring partnerships with local laboratories as well as the possibility of establishing higher-throughput lab capabilities on campus.

Currently, there are free public testing sites available throughout Los Angeles County, and orders for testing may also be written by an individual's physician. These options may be best for those who are interested in testing before the campus resumes activities and has a testing protocol in place.

These tests are not available at the Institute at this time. Although several antibody tests have been given emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, more research is needed to understand how specific and sensitive these tests are. Also, it is not yet clear whether a positive antibody test is a definitive indicator of personal immunity.

Caltech continues to use the same protocol for contact tracing that has been established by the Pasadena and Los Angeles County Public Health Departments. We identify anyone considered a "close contact" with an infected individual: a close contact is defined as someone who was within a six-foot proximity of an infected person for approximately 15 minutes or more, or who had face-to-face contact with the infected person for any period of time. For example, a first responder to the home of an infected person, or a member of the same household, is considered a close contact.

Yes. In our COVID-19 guidelines for staff, there are specific instructions for employees who have an underlying health condition or otherwise consider themselves to be in a high-risk group, consistent with State of California guidance. Caltech employees who live with someone in a high-risk group should continue to telecommute, if possible.

Graduate students who have concerns about returning to work can contact the Graduate Studies Office for assistance. The graduate deans can provide information to students about available options. In addition, the deans can act as a liaison with the student's adviser or division chair, as well as the Office of the Provost and other organizations on campus, to address specific workplace health and safety concerns.

A decision about the fall term has not yet been made, but we are investigating a number of options. We will communicate plans as soon as they are finalized.

Given the nature of the residential experience and especially the close living quarters in the undergraduate residences, planning the resumption of student activities on campus requires careful consideration of many factors. Our planning committees are evaluating plans that would involve reduced student density in residential housing and defined quarantine spaces; they are also considering meal-delivery options and analyzing classrooms to determine how they can accommodate in-person teaching with appropriate social distancing, among other modifications.

We will make a decision about fall term as soon as we have enough certainty about the public health situation, but no later than the beginning of July.

No. That may make sense in a semester model, but would not work well with Caltech's quarter schedule. Also, there is no guarantee that ending early would prevent a resurgence of the disease.

Caltech's Financial Aid Office is responding to assist families through this pandemic. For currently registered students who are already on aid for spring term 2020, there is a specific COVID-adjustment form that students can fill out to start the process.

Evaluations for financial aid for the next academic year will occur this spring/summer. Adjustments to family income due to COVID will be considered on a rolling basis, even if income changes occur after initial aid notifications for next year.

Current undergraduate students who did not apply for, or receive, aid in the past will be allowed to apply this year if their family experiences a change in income due to the pandemic.

Even though Caltech did not accept the federal government's CARES funding, the Institute has been able to meet, fully and effectively, the changing financial aid needs of our students.

We will compile lessons-learned from the spring term to determine what worked well, what did not, and how we can adjust our pedagogy and staffing in the future to be more effective.