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University Message

President Armstrong: Updated Plans and New Testing Requirements for Winter Quarter

Text that reads COVID-19 Updates and Information on a green background.

Editor's Note: This message has been updated with current information regarding COVID-19 testing for students. The original President's Message posted December 17, 2020, can be found below the update.

Update, Jan. 2:

The Presidential Order regarding COVID-19 testing for winter and spring quarters has been amended and is available online

The amended order clarifies the groups of students that will be required to participate in the university’s ongoing testing program and how to request an exemption if, after reviewing the amended order, you feel you qualify for an exemption.

Students who meet any one or more of the criteria below are required to participate in the testing program:

A. Lives in university housing

B. Is enrolled in face-to-face courses

C. Works on campus

D. Participates in research on campus

E. Uses any on-campus service (except the Health Center)

F. Lives in the same household or congregate living facility (meaning a group housing facility, such as a dormitory or fraternity/sorority house) with a Cal Poly student who meets any of the criteria listed as A through E above.

Most importantly, if you do not meet the criteria for testing as defined in the amended order you DO NOT need to request an exemption as you will automatically be exempt from the testing program.

Complimentary short-term parking will be provided on the top level of the Performing Arts Center structure to help students access the testing location throughout the duration of the testing program.

All students are strongly encouraged to participate in ongoing testing, even if you do not meet the criteria for required testing. Regular testing is a step that each member of our community can take to promote greater public health in the Cal Poly community.

For more information and updates on the university's coronavirus response, visit

Original President's Message:

Dear Campus Community,

I hope that you are all having a healthy and restful winter break. I am writing today to share with you the latest information regarding our plans for winter quarter operation which, I am pleased to report, have been reviewed and endorsed both by the CSU Chancellor’s Office and by San Luis Obispo County Public Health.

Our winter quarter plans include de-densified on-campus housing and a small percentage of face-to-face courses - but with important changes and additions: significantly increased testing; increased capacity for isolating any infected student residents on campus; a staggered return of on-campus students in the first week of the quarter; and an all-virtual finals week.

Before I provide further details, it is important to note that our collective effort to help slow the spread of the virus depends on each of us playing our part. Testing often, wearing a face covering in public, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands frequently - these are simple but critical habits that each member of our campus community must maintain in order to avoid potentially spreading COVID-19 through both our campus and broader San Luis Obispo County communities.  Following these protocols is essential to allow students to maintain the opportunity to live and/or study on campus amid the pandemic.

We have worked in close cooperation with the County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department in developing and refining our plans. Dr. Penny Borenstein, our county Public Health Officer, who worked with us on our plans, endorsed those plans in a public announcement issued this morning. She is quoted as saying, "COVID-19 is spreading more widely in SLO County than ever before, and many community members might be uneasy about the decision to bring back college students at this time. With the university and students keeping the health and safety of our community top of mind and strictly following public health guidelines, I can support Cal Poly's winter quarter plan."

As a reminder, winter quarter begins Monday, Jan. 4. Students living on campus who have in-person obligations will move in Jan. 3. Students without in-person obligations will move in Jan. 8-9. And students living off campus who have traveled over winter break are encouraged to return on the same, staggered schedule.

Similar to the fall quarter, we plan to hold a little more than 10 percent of our classes in person (about 428 of the planned 4,105 class sections) during winter. Only courses that cannot be delivered virtually and are required for graduation are being offered face-to-face. And we will maintain the rigorous sanitation and engineering control protocols that were very successful in fall quarter, with no cases of coronavirus transmission traceable to face-to-face classroom exposure.

As well, University Housing will host over 4,000 students in single-occupancy rooms only, with masks required in public spaces and active discouragement of congregating.

We know that most of our students intend to live in the San Luis Obispo area regardless of the university’s plans. Having students living on campus and coming to campus for some critical face-to-face classes provides the university with an opportunity to generate greater compliance with public health preventive measures and to provide frequent and ongoing COVID-19 testing.

We have previously announced our plans to increase testing of students living, studying and/or working on campus through a new, faculty-developed, saliva-based molecular testing (PCR) program that will give us much greater testing capacity (up to 4,000 tests per day with expansion possible) and allow for more frequent testing throughout the quarter.

Our required testing program for students on campus maximizes the chances of catching positive cases early and maximizes the opportunity to model appropriate prevention behaviors.

In consultation with county Public Health, we will require that students living, studying and/or working on campus present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of their arrival. Those students unable to provide a test result will be tested immediately upon their arrival on campus. (We are strongly encouraging students living off campus in San Luis Obispo County and not planning to come to campus regularly to also obtain a negative test before traveling back to the area for winter. These students are also instructed to self-quarantine upon arrival, according to state and county guidelines.)

In addition, throughout the quarter, all students living both on campus and off campus in the San Luis Obispo County community will be required to take part in testing at least twice per week regardless of the modality of their classes. Students who do not comply with these testing requirements will receive written warning and then will lose use of key university resources (to be restored upon their compliance with testing requirements). For more information about this, please see the Presidential Order at

Enforcement of our testing requirements is critical. Given that cases increased dramatically in November within our campus community and around the county, state and nation, County Public Health has determined that any student who fails to test at the prescribed frequency is a potential detriment to the public health of our campus, city and county.

More information about testing requirements will be provided to students later today.

In addition, Campus Health and Wellbeing will continue to offer diagnostic testing for students with symptoms. Ongoing asymptomatic testing through our saliva-based program will be offered for faculty and staff.

We have previously announced that final exams for winter quarter will be delivered 100 percent virtually, allowing students the option to be away from campus March 12-29 before the start of spring quarter.

In addition, over winter break we are installing wastewater testing equipment at five strategic locations around campus to monitor for coronavirus in residence halls (allowing for early testing, isolation and quarantine to help slow any spread).

We will continue to follow county and state Public Health guidelines around the isolation of on-campus residents who test positive for COVID-19 and the quarantine or quarantine-in-place of on-campus residents who have been exposed to someone who tests positive.

During the surge in cases on campus in November, the university briefly placed a handful of students in isolation in off-campus hotel accommodations after reaching capacity in its isolation beds on campus. This occurred largely because we had to move an entire floor of a residence hall to serve out their quarantine-in-place order in isolation after positive cases continued to arise on that floor.

For winter, we are adding about 50 beds to our on-campus isolation capacity, for a total of 236 beds. With our enhanced isolation capacity and refined quarantine and quarantine-in-place procedures, we do not foresee the need to utilize off-campus hotel accommodations during the winter or spring quarter. However, out of an abundance of caution, we will maintain the ability to procure off-campus isolation overflow spaces as needed (a practice that is also undertaken by the county as needed).

As well, the university will continue to focus on educational campaigns aimed at helping our students understand and embrace their role in the San Luis Obispo community's efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 - and we will continue to work with the city of San Luis Obispo to hold students accountable through the student conduct process for any violations of local and state health and safety violations, either on or off campus.

Finally, I am proud of our students who took responsibility during the fall to follow all the safety precautions asked of them. We will need to continue with that vigilance as we enter our winter quarter. Every one of our campus community has a personal responsibility in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

I will close with a recent quote from Dr. Borenstein: “As San Luis Obispo County grapples with the same increasing numbers of infections happening nationwide, it is crucial that our student residents - like all members of our community - do their part as we continue to combat the spread of this virus. We can do it, but only together - only with everyone playing their part."

In closing, please stay well, and please continue to adhere to all health and safety guidelines wherever you may be. We look forward to seeing you all  -  either on campus or virtually  -  in the new year.

Jeffrey D. Armstrong