To: The Campus Community
From: Jennifer Howes, Executive Director of Student Wellness Services
Date: July 16, 2020
Re: COVID-19 Tracking and Reporting at Caltech
The increased presence of COVID-19 in communities across the country, including the recent spike in infections in Los Angeles County in particular, brings to the fore the importance of careful attention to public health guidelines for the prevention of infection and to the need for easy access to data about cases within our community.
While Caltech has been fortunate to have had only a few cases in the last three months, there has been a recent uptick in the number of reports of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases within the Caltech community. Given this development, I thought it important to provide you information on:
- Communication tools and processes for keeping the Caltech community informed about identified cases, including a new reporting dashboard;
- Expectations for reporting illness through the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application; and
- Established protocols and processes for contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
Please remember that if at any point you are feeling ill, we ask that you stay home, report that illness, and avoid campus.
Whenever Caltech has identified or been informed of an individual within our campus community who is ill with COVID-like symptoms, we have promptly implemented the established processes for contact tracing and testing or testing referrals, have issued instructions to isolate and quarantine, and have cleaned or disinfected the campus areas visited by that individual. In each case, members of the Caltech community who were found to be a close contact (someone who has been within a 6-foot proximity of the infected individual for 15 minutes or more) were directly notified and provided appropriate instructions for isolating and quarantining. In situations where prolonged time had been spent in the presence of others within a shared workspace, even with physical distancing, additional notifications were made.
In many of the recently reported incidents, the infected individual had not been present on campus for more than 48 hours prior to experiencing symptoms; in some instances, individuals had not reported to campus since the implementation of the Safer at Home order in March. Furthermore, the cases reported to Caltech thus far have not been related and do not reflect an outbreak in our community.
As we move forward through this nationwide, and local, spike in cases, we will be updating a dashboard of information including reports of illness, testing metrics, and confirmed case counts on a dedicated page on the coronavirus website. This dashboard will be updated by 2 p.m. each weekday. While we are committed to keeping all members of the community appropriately informed, we will not be able to provide details on individual cases, due to student and employee privacy rights. We encourage others in our community to be respectful of those privacy rights as well.
In addition to sharing this reporting dashboard, I would like to provide an update about the web reporting application, and to share information on how reports of illness are received and managed, and the processes and protocols for testing, contact tracing, and isolation and quarantine.
Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application
For the past month, as we returned to on-campus research activity, we have asked individuals reporting to campus to affirm at the beginning of their workday that they have not experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days. Before the end of their workday, these same individuals must also log information on the specific buildings visited on campus in which they have spent 15 minutes or more. Having such a record allows us to quickly respond in the event of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within our community.
Until now, individuals reporting to campus have had the option of providing this information either through a Caltech-managed web-based application that was developed by Caltech's Information Management Systems & Services (IMSS) group, or via a paper log. Going forward, we ask that everyone use the online Caltech COVID-19 Reporting application exclusively.
The Caltech COVID-19 Reporting Application is a more efficient and user-friendly method for recording this information. In the event that an individual who has reported to campus or an offsite facility tests positive for COVID-19, the application allows Student Wellness Services to more quickly trace and identify possible exposures. As a reminder, Student Wellness Services is managing the contact tracing efforts for the entire campus community, including students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral researchers.
Information collected by the web application or the paper reporting log must be stored for 20 days before being discarded; data will be accessed by individuals in Student Wellness Services, and only if a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 is identified, to support contact tracing efforts.
Individuals who do not have reliable access to the internet and cannot otherwise access the web application should consult with their manager or supervisor about receiving permission to continue to use the paper reporting log.
Reports of Illness
Individuals are expected to report if they are suffering symptoms of illness through the web application, and supervisors are also able to do so on behalf of their direct reports. This report sends an alert to the COVID-19 management team, which includes medical professionals and other trained staff who manage the steps involved in contact tracing, initiate cleaning and disinfection of impacted spaces, and notify others as appropriate. The Institute follows the same procedures for all reports of illness with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as for positive, confirmed cases. This approach ensures that the swift isolation of the ill person and quarantine of close contacts will reduce the likelihood that disease will spread within the community. It is critical that each member of the Caltech community who is coming to campus be mindful of symptoms and report at the first sign of illness.
Additional notifications may be made within an academic division, laboratory, or business unit if the circumstances involved in the illness report indicate a need to address shared workspaces or other factors that may impact specific procedures within that area.
Contact Tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine
Upon receiving a report of illness, a medical professional from the COVID-19 management team will speak with the ill person, and immediately provide instructions for isolation in accordance with the Pasadena Health Officer Order. Isolation is initiated to reduce or eliminate contact between an ill person and others to reduce the spread of illness. Isolation typically lasts for a period of 10 days from the onset of symptoms and may be longer if illness persists. Individuals who have been instructed to isolate should consult with their primary healthcare professional to confirm when their isolation period is complete.
The ill individual will also be interviewed by one of the Institute's designated contact tracers to identify any close contacts who need to quarantine after potential exposure to illness. The contact tracer will utilize a personal interview and data from the Caltech COVID-19 reporting app to determine who should receive quarantine instructions. Close contact is defined as face-to-face contact within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes; in some cases, additional notifications may be made to individuals who work in the same space for prolonged periods, even with physical distancing. These determinations are made on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with Pasadena Public Health, and involve an exploration of the nature of activity, duration, and shared or frequently contacted surfaces. Individuals who are identified as close contacts are instructed to quarantine for 14 days to monitor for symptoms of illness in accordance with the Pasadena Health Officer Order. Individuals in quarantine should alert their contact person from the COVID-19 management team if they develop symptoms during the quarantine period, and will then be instructed to isolate according to the guidelines referenced above.
In an instance where the potential for exposure is determined or believed to extend beyond identified close contacts, the Institute will send out an email update to members of shared building, public, and indoor spaces, or, if warranted, the broader campus community with the pertinent information.
Students who live in Caltech-owned housing will be evaluated for their ability to isolate or quarantine in their current housing assignment. Students who need to isolate but are without access to a private bathroom in their personal residence because of a shared living environment will be relocated to dedicated isolation space in Avery or quarantine space in the South Houses. A range of medical monitoring, dining, and other support services will be provided according to the specifications and requirements of the health officer order. Individuals who do not reside in Caltech-owned housing will receive regular phone calls during isolation and quarantine periods.
The availability of testing kits in Los Angeles County continues to fluctuate and with these changes in supply have come evolving criteria for determining whether to refer individuals for COVID-19 testing. Test results from commercial labs may take 7 days or more to return. The point-of-care instruments ordered by the Institute in the early days of the pandemic have had delivery delays as manufacturers work to serve hospital settings and patients who are critically ill. Currently, Student Wellness Services collects specimens for students who are symptomatic or who are identified as close contacts; these specimens are processed offsite by LabCorp.
We recognize that Caltech community members who are currently referred to testing resources through their private insurance, primary healthcare provider, and county testing sites are having difficulties accessing testing in a timely fashion. The Institute is exploring ways to make testing more easily available to students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral researchers, and updates will be made to the coronavirus website as they are available. In the meantime, Caltech community members should consult with their healthcare provider about options for testing, and can explore options through county testing sites or other resources. The Disability and Leave Unit in Human Resources is available to work with staff and faculty to help them in accessing testing and care.
We must all do our part to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19. As always, please remember to:
- Stay home if you are ill or have a fever;
- Use the Caltech COVID-19 Reporting application;
- Wear a cloth face covering; and
- Maintain appropriate physical distance from others on campus.
Thank you for your continued help in this challenging time.